‘Fake poo’ developed to stress-test sanitation systems

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Bath University researchers have developed ‘fake poo’ that can be used to test and understand the drying process of faecal sludge in order to improve sanitation in developing countries

Human poo is generally made up of a third bacteria and dead cells, a third undigested fibre and a third fats and inorganic materials. However, faecal sludge from pit latrines and septic tanks is slightly different in composition as it has stabilised over a time.

The lab-created poo at Bath will replicate the chemical and physical properties of faecal sludge as closely as possible and is made from a concoction of ingredients including yeast, hemp fibre and shredded tissue, peanut oil, calcium phosphate and water.

The project aims to reduce illness and deaths associated with the unregulated disposal of human waste.

Across the world, 2.7 billion people do not have access to a flushing toilet and instead rely on static sanitation systems such as pit latrines.

Naomi Deering, postgraduate researcher in faecal sludge management at the University of Bath, said: “Developing and testing batches of fake poo isn’t something many people can say they do as part of the day job.

“This area of research at times may not be the most pleasant but the potential impact of this project makes this work so worthwhile.

“Solar-drying faecal sludge in drying beds can provide a low-energy solution for sustainable faecal sludge management in developing countries.

“While there has been great progress made in the installation of millions of toilets across the world, there is still a lot more work to be done to achieve the sustainable development goal of access to improved sanitation for all by 2030.

“The next challenge is to find safe and sustainable ways of treating and disposing of large quantities of untreated human waste.

“Especially in developing countries, there is a growing urgency to improve the current situation and develop low-cost, low-energy solutions which don’t affect existing toilet technology.”

Roughly 1.8 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990 thanks to the UN Millennium Goals and the more recent post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals. However, many of these systems are not connected to sewage systems and therefore require manual emptying and disposal.

Poor understanding of the risks involved with faecal sludge, along with a lack of suitable places to dispose of it, mean it is often left in nearby fields and rivers.

Germs found in faecal sludge cause illnesses such as diarrhoea, which results in the deaths of more than 750,000 children under five every year.

A pilot project in Bangladesh saw experts investigate the suitability of covered, unplanted sludge drying beds for treating faecal sludge.

Drying beds utilise natural sunlight and heat to dry out the sludge through evaporation and drainage.

As it loses water, the temperature within the sludge rises – killing off parasite eggs and pathogens such as E.coli and salmonella.

The sludge can then be composted to allow safe use in agriculture as a soil conditioner.

Earlier this month E&T looked at a number of projects that are looking at extracting energy and nutrients from faeces.

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