And thou shalt eat it [as] barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight.
Human Waste as a Resource
Treating human waste through Anaerobic Digestion is an incredibly ethical sanitation technology. Anaerobic Digestion occurs in biodigesters and produces a fuel (biogas), removes Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) from sewage, conserves nutrients (especially nitrogen compounds) and most importantly reduces pathogens. Human waste damages the environment because it is loaded with BOD, nutrients, and anthropozoonotic diseases. This can cause a host of environmental problems that can lead to ecosystem collapse such as rendering a water body uninhabitable for many organisms. Untreated sewage causes algal blooms, red tide, and so called dead zones. Humans also suffer from untreated sewage (also called black water). Waterborne disease transmitted through human excrement is a leading cause of death worldwide, especially in the so-called developing world. Some diseases caused by untreated human sewage are Cholera, Typhoid fever, Paratyphoid fever, Salmonella, Dysentery, Gastroenteritis, Leptospirosis, Meningitis, Hepatitis, and various parasitic diseases.
The amount of biogas that can be yielded from human waste is limited in comparison with livestock manure and other feedstocks. Our stomachs are just too efficient! David House states in his excellent book that 1000 lbs of human waste produces about 0.6 cubic meters of biogas (enough cooking fuel for about 1 to 2 persons). But that amount quickly adds up, please reference the internet for example projects especially in Rwanda, India and Thailand.
Untreated sewage, along with causing a prevalence of disease, developing countries are also disposing of valuable nutrients in places where fertilizers aren’t available. Biodigesters turn waste into a biofertilizer. There is also a major flaw in the sewage treatment systems of developed countries where enormous amounts of energy are used to aerate and treat sewage; Anaerobic Digestion treats sewage and also produces energy rather than consumes it. This article discusses considerations for human waste treatment and various options are outlined.