Nature provides valuable sanitation services

Willcock, Simon, Parker, Alison, Wilson, Charlotte, Brewer, Tim, Bundhoo, Dilshaad ORCID: 0000-0003-0262-9868, Cooper, Sarah, Lynch, Kenneth ORCID: 0000-0002-5296-2864, Mekala, Sneha, Mishra, Prajna Paramita, Rey Vicario, Dolores, Welivita, Indunee, Venkatesh, Kongala and Hutchings, Paul (2021) Nature provides valuable sanitation services. One Earth, 4 (2). pp. 192-201. doi:10.1016/j.oneear.2021.01.003

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Much previous research shows that safe disposal of human waste has a positive impact on human wellbeing, while preventing the degradation of ecosystems. However, to date, the role that ecosystems themselves play in treating human waste has been largely neglected. We conceptualize the role nature plays in treating human waste—acting as a pipeline and/or treatment plant. We estimate that nature is treating ~41.7 million tons of human waste per year worldwide, a service worth at least 4.4 ± 3.0 billion USD year−1. We demonstrate the opportunities and challenges of quantifying these “sanitation ecosystem services,” using 48 cities across the globe as a worked example. In highlighting this, we are not marginalizing the vital role of engineered infrastructure, but instead are promoting better understanding of how engineered and natural infrastructure interact within a circular economy. This is a promising route for further research and may allow adaptive design and management, reducing costs, and improving effectiveness and sustainability.

Item Type: Article
Article Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ecosystem service; Nature-based solution; Natural sanitation; WASH; Water
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human geography. Human ecology. Anthropogeography
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Education and Science
Research Priority Areas: Place, Environment and Community
Depositing User: Rhiannon Goodland
Date Deposited: 08 Jun 2021 08:12
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2023 08:57

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