Sanitation Treatment System Are Evolving — Are We?

Sanitation Treatment System Are Evolving — Are We?

Karleen Kos is executive director of the Portable Sanitation Association International. She may be reached at or 952-854-8300.

Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to join dozens of sanitation professionals from around the world to develop an International Working Agreement. The focus of this technical document is nonsewered fecal sludge treatment units that are energy independent, prefabricated, and capable of recovering resources from human and animal waste.

The just-released International Working Agreement is complementary to the new international standard on “next-generation toilets,” currently in its final review. The PSAI has been engaged with global toilet technology experts on that project as well. Together, the two documents will cover both nonsewered toilets that can be used by a single household and nonsewered treatment units large enough to serve entire communities.


This matters to portable sanitation. For the past several years, PSAI’s members have identified disposal issues as one of their top long-term business concerns. And why not? Infrastructure in the developed world where portable sanitation is the most prevalent costs millions of dollars to build. In many cases, it is overused and capacity is limited. Fees go up, the type of waste they can accept becomes narrower, and older disposal sites with negative environmental impacts are closing.

Clearly, something in this area has to change for our industry to grow and prosper — and it’s a race against time. You and your company are competing with every household and business whose waste also goes into the treatment plant. In the 1960s and 1970s when many of us were kids, there were fewer than 4 billion people on the Earth. Today there are around 7.6 billion, and if we live to the end of our natural life spans, there will be well over 10 billion people who could potentially bring cake to our funerals. Thus, the amount of human waste being created — and that must be processed — is staggering.

The other thing that is a “given” is that we have to find a way to recover resources out of the waste we deal with. Failing to do that is, well, wasteful. It’s also not very good business sense. A lot of resources in human and animal waste can be put to better use.

The International Water Management Institute identifies broad business opportunities across the sanitation service chain in areas including access to toilets, emptying and transport, waste treatment, and disposal or reuse of waste. Within all of these categories, you can expect to see growth in the coming years. The next-generation toilet standard and the International Working Agreement will impact three of the four categories, probably accelerating business options in each of them.


The new waste processing systems are designed to harvest the waste-related assets shown in the “treatment” and “disposal or reuse” categories. As a businessperson, I am confident you want to know all the ways you could potentially reduce your costs or make money outright with the waste you collect. That’s why the PSAI is at the table as new standards and working agreements are being developed. We need to know what is going on so we can provide input — and also so that we can keep our members informed. Whether you are the sort of entrepreneur to invest in one of these technologies yourself, you urge your community to do that, or you just need to know how to maximize your opportunities as things change, the PSAI aims to ensure you have a source of information. Join us! 


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