This section provides an introductory overview of the components and technologies pertaining to human waste and its management. It is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather provide a reference for those addressing human waste management in its various contexts. Sanitation 101 contains subsections on:

  • Sanitation Terminology provides the reader with some basic terminology applicable to human waste and wastewater pollution to increase readability of Sanitation 101.
  • System Types differentiates individual, decentralized and centralized implementations of sanitation systems; it introduces the typical functional elements of system types, providing context the variety of ways in which a system may be designed and implemented.
  • Degrees of Treatment defines the degrees of treatment that are used to characterize the sanitation processes and products (outputs) in a sanitation system.
  • Sanitation Systems describes sanitation system processes and includes a subsection on the treatment technologies that may be used in different sanitation systems.
  • Treatment Technologies explores some of the major types of treatment technologies that may be implemented in a sanitation system.

In general, a sanitation system is a stepwise series of technologies and services for the collection, containment, transport, transformation, utilization and/or disposal of waste. It comprises waste products that travel through functional elements that employ various context sensitive technologies that are specific to the type of waste and the local sanitation requirements; requirements that include the physical environment as well as cultural norms and the local infrastructure. Some waste products are generated directly by humans (urine and feces/excreta), others are required in the functioning of technologies (the use of flush water to move excreta through sewers), and some are generated as a function of storage or treatment (e.g., sludge). The design of a sanitation system includes the definition of all of the waste products flowing into and out of each of the technologies in the system.

The efficacy of a sanitation system depends on its fit to the human and environmental context and the feasibility of actually operating and managing the system safely and sustainably in that context.

Furthermore, Ownership, Operations and Management (OO&M) deserve consideration as it can pose significant challenges to implementing sanitation solutions. These models include nonprofit, private, municipal, public-private partnerships etc. as well as financing options, all of which will vary depending on the OO&M model. Innovation and policy change is needed to facilitate easier OO&M models. An example of a broken system is the County systems in Hawaii; the capital cost is funded through Community Improvement Project funding, then operations is funded through taxing users — but there is no system to ensure capture of capital improvement and emergency funds that are needed when components need replacing due to their age, or are damaged in storms. What typically happens is the County must lobby for additional CIP funds after systems have fallen into disrepair (e.g., after a wastewater spill). Practitioners need to be aware of and have reasonable knowledge of the different management systems as well as understand how local policy needs to change to support implementation. As an example, Working Together for Clean Water provides insight into OO&M for a specific project.