Envis Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Saturday, July 13, 2024

Sustainable Sanitation

Sustainable sanitation recognizes that in order to be sustainable, a sanitation approach must be socially acceptable and economically viable. In this way, sustainable sanitation is a loop- based approach that differs fundamentally from the current linear concepts of waste water management, and that does not only recognize technology, but also social, environmental and economic aspects. Sustainable sanitation is an approach that considers sanitation holistically. It recognizes that human excreta and wastewater are not waste product, but valuable resources. This view is based on the fact that wastewater and excreta contain significant amount of energy plant nutrients and also water that can be recycled and reused, thus protecting natural resources.


The main objective of a sanitation system is to protect and promote human health by providing a clean environment and breaking the cycle of disease. In order to be sustainable, a sanitation system has to be not only economically viable, socially acceptable, and technically and institutionally appropriate, it should also protect the environment and the natural resources.


Today, the need for sustainability means that resource saving and protection of the environment are vital and there is a need for innovation and rethinking. This cannot be achieved by conventional methods. Also, in our emerging consumer and chemical societies it will not be enough that residents pay for sanitation and water services – they have to be partners to make sanitation sustainable.


Sustainable sanitation is a simple approach: the most basic principle is that is considers wastewater and excreta not as a waste, but as resources, that sanitation has to be socially acceptable and should be as economically viable as possible. There is no one- fit-all approach much rather, the most adequate solution has to be found from case to case, considering climate and water availability, agricultural practices, socio-cultural preferences, affordability, safety and technical prerequisites – just to name a few.


When improving an existing and/or designing a new sanitation system, sustainability criteria related to the following aspects should be considered:


• Health and hygiene: includes the risk of exposure to pathogens and hazardous substances that could affect public health at all points of the sanitation system from the toilet via the collection and treatment system to the point of reuse or disposal and downstream populations. This topic also covers aspects such as hygiene, nutrition and improvement of livelihood achieved by the application of a certain sanitation system, as well as downstream effects.


• Environment and natural resources: involves the required energy, water and other natural resources for construction, operation and maintenance of the system, as well as the potential emissions to the environment resulting from its use. It also includes the degree of recycling and reuse practiced and the effects of these (e.g. reusing wastewater; returning nutrients and organic material to agriculture), and the protection of other non-renewable resources, e.g. through the production of renewable energies (such as biogas).


• Technology and operation: incorporates the functionality and the ease with which the entire system including the collection, transport, treatment and reuse and/or final disposal can be constructed, operated and monitored by the local community and/or the technical teams of the local utilities. Furthermore, the robustness of the system, its vulnerability towards power cuts, water shortages, floods, earthquakes etc. and the flexibility and adaptability of its technical elements to the existing infrastructure and to demographic and socio-economic developments are important aspects.


• Financial and economic issues: relate to the capacity of households and communities to pay for sanitation, including the construction, operation, maintenance and necessary reinvestments in the system. Besides the evaluation of these direct costs also direct benefits e.g. from recycled products (soil conditioner, fertiliser, energy and reclaimed water) and external costs and benefits have to be taken into account. Such external costs are e.g. environmental pollution and health hazards, while benefits include increased agricultural productivity and subsistence economy, employment creation, improved health and reduced environmental risks.


• Sociocultural and institutional aspects: the criteria in this category refer to the socio-cultural acceptance and appropriateness of the system, convenience, system perceptions, gender issues and impacts on human dignity, the contribution to food security, compliance with the legal framework and stable and efficient institutional settings.


Conventional approaches to waste water management that regard wastewater as a waste, and ofen are dysfunctional, have serious drawback, 




Sustainable Development Goals and Gram Panchayats



Source : United Nation, Updated on Janury 7th, 2016