A key ingredient in any plan to ensure that everyone around the world has access to safe sanitation is the category of toilets that do not require a sewer. Non-sewered systems will be necessary to achieve the “sanitation” half of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Six, which calls for sustainable water and sanitation for all.
Sanitation has proven to be one of the harder goals to achieve, however. In 2015, only 39 percent of the world’s population had a safe, private (not shared with other households) sanitation system, and 27 percent used private facilities connected to sewers that treated the waste, according to the World Health Organization. That leaves 2.3 billion people who do not have access to toilets or latrines, including nearly 1 billion people who defecate in the open. The United Nations announced a call to action to eliminate open defecation as a primary sanitation practice by 2025.
Why Non-Sewered Sanitation?
It will be impractical to meet that goal without relying on non-sewered systems. Non-sewered sanitation systems are necessary in replacing open defecation with toilet use for communities and regions off the sewer, water, or electrical grid. These sanitation systems remove pathogens on-site to reduce the output and potential for environmental contamination or human exposure to dangerous human waste. These systems operate without the need for a sewer system, water connection, or electricity. A variety of geographical challenges may drive communities to implement non-sewered sanitation. Those can include communities that float on a river or another body of water, housing built on sandy soil or in flood-prone areas, and communities that are at high altitude or geographically isolated.
At the same time, the effort to provide toilets will be wasted if the products are defective. Building and designing products that adhere to a rigorous international standard can reduce deficiencies in these toilets. With that in mind, the International Standards Organization and partners are creating non-sewered toilet standards to serve the effort to provide sanitation and meet SDG 6.
The ISO is a body that allows one vote per country. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) represents the United States in the ISO. Other partners involved in international standards formation include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the International Workshop Agreement (IWA).
The ISO Project Committee (PC) 305 is made up of 30 participating member countries and 14 observing member countries and is guiding the development and adoption of Sustainable Non-Sewered Sanitation Systems Standards (ANSIb 2017). ISO PC 305 aims to consider systems that cost less than (USD) $.05 per user per day (ANSI 2016).
ISO/PC 305’s Challenges
The committee is poised to publish its standards in August, 2018. PC 305 is focusing on technology-based solutions. ANSI is approaching the difficult task of developing standards for non-sewered sanitation, not without challenges.
One of its challenges is to achieve the primary goal of ensuring that all relevant stakeholder categories are represented. ANSI particularly struggles in connecting with specialists in the field of accreditation and certification and testing. Another barrier is informing new members and experts of the ISO process and the intricate history of the document. With so many documents and voices that need to be included, it is difficult simply to get everyone up to speed on how the group has come to consensus on specific topics in the past. Lastly, at the global level, it becomes quite complicated to connect interested experts with their national standards bodies. As is the case in many countries, this process can become complex and time consuming.
During the development of new standards, it is customary to circulate drafts to the committee and ISO members throughout the stages of development to obtain comments and review. The standards do not become publicly available, however, until they are published. In 2016, before ISO PC 305 began its work, IWA 24: Non-sewered sanitation systems, General safety and performance requirements for design and testing was published. This 2016 IWA served as the basis for the new PC 305 standard.
Once a standard is published, ISO works with global stakeholders to ensure that national standards bodies, government ministries and the like have access. They are given the opportunity to accept the standard in support of national objectives related to sanitation and public health. Individual countries’ decisions and abilities to accept these standards are influenced by their existing national standards or regulations, political initiatives, incentive programs, and the status of the products in this market. Potential mechanisms for implementation include adoption as a national standard in an individual country, reference by manufacturers, reference in regulations, or use as the basis for testing or certification programs. Once the standard is published by ISO, they aim to share it widely. It should be used as a benchmark for safety and to provide value in countries that have the greatest need for non-sewered sanitation technologies.
International standards create criteria, transparency, and improve efficiency in their respective sectors. The main goal of an ISO standard is to ensure that products on the market are not a direct risk to human or environmental health. Criteria allow for engineers and innovators to compare and compete on the quality and functionality of their products. These 305 standards aim to improve safety, functionality, reliability, usability, and maintainability of products on the market. Standards can also be utilized to create expectations and regulations around acceptable discharges and discharge levels, which play a role in the protection of human and environmental health.
These standards are crucial to aiding the sanitation industry as it builds solutions that serve people at the bottom of the pyramid, and anyone who lives where sewer or water services are not in place.
American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI Calls on Expert Stakeholders to Participate in ISO Project Committee 305 on Sustainable Non-Sewered Sanitation Systems. 2016.
American National Standards Institute (ANSIb). ISO/PC 305, Sustainable non-sewered sanitation systems. Web accessed August 7, 2017: https://www.iso.org/committee/6170397.html
Interview with Kristen Califra, August 11, 2017. Sr. Program Administrator
American National Standards Institute (ANSI).