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Integrated Water-Less Management of Night Soil for Depollution
of Water Resources and Water Conservation
Pramod R. Chaudhari
, Sanyogita Verma
, B.K. Jha
And Dhiraj Kumar Singh
1, 3, 4
Grass Roots Research and creation India (P) Ltd., Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India
Anand Niketan College, Anandwan, Warora, Maharashtra, India
Use of water for flushing night soil and enormous sewage disposal are responsible for pollution and depletion of
fresh water resources in India and other countries. The review of traditional methods in the world provides idea
of zero-waste discharge residential units. Experiences and research in India, China, Japan, America and Sweden
has indicated feasibility of waterless management of night soil, composting and use of biofertilizer product in
agriculture. A novel idea of ecological management of night soil and urine is presented in which night soil may
be conditioned for transportation and treatment by adding suitable waste product(s) from industry and other
sources. Different night soil treatment methods are reviewed and emphasized the need for further research on
whole cycle of ecological management or sustainable sanitation depending on local conditions. The benefits of
this system are zero sewage discharge, reuse of waste as resource, recovery of nutrients in waste as fertilizer,
production of fuel gas and reduction of pathogens in biofertilizer. This will help in water conservation and
regenerating the quality and quantity of river flow for use as water ways and irrigation and to improve the public
health. Potential technical intervention and research needs are discussed in this article.
Keywords - Pollution, Night Soil, Sustainable Sanitation, Biofertilizer
The unscientific method of night soil
disposal using water medium is the main culprit
resulting in pollution of water bodies in India. The
conventional approach to depollute the rivers in
India, through development of costly sewers and
sewage treatment plants, has been proved to be
irrational and impractical from the experience of
Ganga Action Plan (GAP) without any success.
GAP has consumed enormous amount of public
money that could he been used for development.
The zero waste-discharge concept may be adopted
for residential areas generating night soil and
domestic waste for which technological
intervention of mixed composting [1] is necessary.
Various options are available for water
less processing of night soil, based on the
principles of traditional methods as well as initial
work done in 1980s and experience in certain other
countries and incorporating new ideas of recycle
and reuse using waste from different anthropogenic
activities as resource for this purpose. These
options are discussed, which need research
intervention through government support and
efforts of scientists to formulate and commercialize
the technology and designing of treatment plants
for a family or for a community, and infrastructure
to use of the biofertilizer to improve the farm soils.
This will reduce the use of chemicals fertilizers,
motivate the people to produce the green
agricultural products and the soil fertility will be
maintained for a longer period, making India rich
in agricultural production.
The Table 1 presents the average
composition of human excreta and urine. Both
contain considerable amount of organic matter,
carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and
calcium. They are, thus regarded not as waste, but
as resource to recover nutrients for crops through
suitable technology.
Table 1: Composition of Human Excreta
Quantity (wet) per person per day (g)
Quantity (dry solids) per person per day
Moisture content (%)
Approximate composition (per cent dry
Organic matter
Phosphorus (as P2O5)
Potassium (as K2O)
Calcium (as CaO)
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The research and development on
waterless management of night soil might get great
benefits from the review of traditional water less
disposal of night soil which has been practiced in
almost all cultures. The use of human waste to
increase and sustain soil fertility dates back to over
4000 years in the countries of Asia (China, Japan,
Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, India etc.) and western
pacific. A working assumption for a developing
country is that adults produce about 350 g of feces
per day in the urban areas and 1.2 kg per day in
rural areas.
3.1 India
In India, there was routine method of mixing night
soil with soil, agricultural waste and domestic
waste and allow for composting in a ditch. The
compost was then used in agricultural fields.
Animal waste was also to be used for composting
after mixing with plant waste. Every village used to
have certain areas outside the village for men and
women separately for open defecation, where night
soil was used to be covered by soil and left for
natural process of composting. Agricultural fields
were also used for open defecation by the people to
improve the soil fertility. The cattle or sheep were
used to rear in the fields so that their dung is added
to the soil and undergo natural composting
ultimately improving soil fertility.
3.2 China
Most organized collection and use of human
excreta from cities and its transportation to fields
were seen in China [2] more than 2500 years ago
and enabled them to sustain more people at a
higher density than any other system of agriculture
3.3 United States of America
Almost 50 percent of biosolids created in
the United States are applied to land, with the
majority being used in agriculture. However,
biosolids used in the United States aren’t night soil.
The night soil along with sewage is carried to
treatment plant from where the effluent is used for
irrigation. The pathogens are removed in treatment
plant. Biosolids treated once are called Class B
biosolids, and can be used with various restrictions,
because while the pathogen levels are reduced by a
single treatment, they’re not completely gone. That
requires a second treatmentoften using high
temperaturesand turns the biosolids into Class A
biosolids, which have no detectable pathogens and
can be used anywhere.
3.4 Other Countries
In Mexico, in 15th and 16th century, the
sweepings and excreta used to be placed in special
boats moored at docks around the city and were
used to fertilize the agricultural fields. Urine was
collected in containers in all houses, then mixed
with mud and used as a fabric dye [4]. In Peru, the
Incas had a high regard for excreta as a fertilizer,
which was stored, dried and pulverized to be
utilized when planting maize [3]. In the middle
ages, human excreta and greywater was routinely
used in agriculture. European cities were the source
of agricultural fertilizers by gong farmers in
England. The practice of directly using the
nutrients in excreta and wastewater for agriculture
therefore continued in Europe into the middle of
the 19th Century [3]. Traditional forms of
sanitation and excreta reuse have continued in
various parts of the world for centuries and were
still the common practice at the advent of the
Industrial Revolution.
In 20th century, the system of recovery of
nutrients and organic matter from excreta and
greywater was replaced with sewer-based
sanitation systems, at least in cities. This happened
due to growth of urban settlements and increasing
distance from agricultural fields and production of
cheap synthetic fertilizers. This resulted in
production of enormous sewage beyond treatment
capacity, and pollution of water bodies. The
dilution of nutrients in sewage also made it difficult
to recover the nutrients for agricultural purposes.
Under such conditions, recovery of nutrients from
wastewater was continued by using raw, treated or
partially treated wastewater from irrigation in
agriculture with associated human risks if used in
improper way.
5.1 Sustainable Sanitation or Ecological
Management of Human Waste
The term Ecosan was first used in about
the 1990s (or perhaps even late 1980s) by an NGO
in Ethiopia called Sudea. They used it for urine-
diverting dry toilets coupled with reuse activities.
In the ecosan concept, human excreta and
wastewater is regarded as a potential resource -
which is why it has also been called "Resource
Oriented Sanitation".
The Swedish International Development
Cooperation Agency (SIDA) funded the research
project ―SanRes R&D Programme‖ during 1993 to
2001, which was further extended by ―EcoSanRes
Programme‖ carried out by Stockholm
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Environment Institute (20022011) [5, 6, 7]. The
German Government enterprise GIZ initiated
Ecosan Program from 2001 to 2012, which was in
later years named as Sustainable Sanitation for
which Sustainable Sanitation Alliance was founded
in 2007. Research on safe use of urine and feces in
agriculture was carried out by Swedish researchers,
and Hakan Jonsson and his team published
Guidelines on the Use of Urine and Feces in Crop
Production [8], which was later incorporated into
the WHO Guidelines on Safe Reuse of Wastewater,
Excreta and Greywater [9]. The multiple barrier
concepts to reuse in this publication have given
clear understanding on how excreta can be used
In China, the policy is the establishment of
technology to effectively use organic waste
(Kitchen garbage) generated at individual sites and
to mix it with dehydrated sludge to augment
methane fermentation and composting. Night soil
treatment facilities use ultra filtration membrane
separation type heavy load treatment process.
Similarly septic sludge from house hold septic
tanks are charged into night soil treatment
facilities. One experimental treatment plant [10] to
treat night soil and septic sludge consisted of a
pretreatment tank, consisting of screen and a trap
(for removing silt ad floating materials, 0.03-1.5%
respectively), heating to 55
C for one hour (to
destroy pathogens and to provide heat for anaerobic
digester) in which organic waste is partially
converted into biogas and parasitic eggs and some
pathogenic bacteria gets inactivated over a ten day
period. Then a series of three stabilization ponds
anaerobic and facultative processes in first two
ponds - and the effluent is delivered into third fish
pond to provide supplementary nutrients. There
was sufficient DO and food in the third
stabilization pond for rearing of fish.
In China, the reuse of night soil is
officially stimulated by extension. Sanitation
Departments of local governments are responsible
to collect and transport night soil from toilets to
storage tanks located in the suburbs. All feces, 1.8
yuan per tonne-km, including labour, and costs of
vehicle and gasoline are paid by local governments.
Farmers pay 12 yuan per tonne and transport from
storage tanks to farmland at an average cost of 0.2
yuan per tonne-km (1 US$ = 8.6 yuan). The price
of commercial fertilizer is much higher (urea 1,400
yuan/tonne; Ammonia phosphate 2,500
yuan/tonne). Collecting, transporting and
processing night soil is not very convenient and it
takes much time as compared to handling
commercial fertilizer. Statistics show that if 200-
500 kg/mu (1 ha = 15 mu) night soil and 80 kg/mu
commercial fertilizer (20-20-20) were used instead
of 100 kg/mu commercial fertilizer, rice production
could increase with 15 kg/mu, wheat with 30
kg/mu, high-quality onions by 20% and grape can
reach 2000-2500 kg/mu. This will be profitable as
long as transport distances are not too long. A
sound system has not yet been developed and
treatment processes has not been standardized.
5.2 Field Trials
Agricultural trials around the world have
shown measurable benefits of using treated excreta
in agriculture as a fertilizer and soil conditioner.
The agricultural trials in Zimbabwe of using treated
urine showed beneficial effects on green leafy
plants such as spinach or maize as well as fruit
trees [11, 12]. Another study in Finland indicated
that the use of urine and wood ash could produce
27% and 10% more red beet root biomass [13].
Urine has been proven in many studies to be a
valuable, relatively easy to handle fertilizer,
containing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and
important micro-nutrients [14].
Options are available for research and
planning on night soil treatment processes based on
experience in China. Night soil treatment processes
include mixed composting, ferment fertilizer
manufacturing, storage tanks and biogas digesters.
6.1 Mixed Composting
After pre-treatment, domestic waste is
mixed with night soil for co-composting in
windrows. Night soil can improve the fertilizing
quality of domestic waste by adjusting the compost
humidity. When the compost temperature rises,
most bacteria and worm eggs in the night soil will
be killed. However, with this method, only small
amounts of night soil can be treated. This method
of treatment is difficult, especially in the rain-
ridden areas.
6.2 Ferment Fertilizer Manufacturing
In some cities, after de-watering, night soil
is mixed with waste or crop straw. Then, anaerobic
fermenting takes place in containers during 20
days. After drying, the product is granulated,
packed and sold to farmers. As it is easy to
transport, farmers welcome it.
6.3 Storage Tanks
This can be developed from the
experience in China. Large storage tanks, 1,000 m
have been built in Shanghai, Yantai, Chengde,
Hefei, Qingdao, etc. for preliminary treatment of
night soil and biogas production. The storage
period is usually 2-3 months. Moderate-
temperature ferment treatment is used in Qinhdao.
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It can achieve satisfying sanitary effects in a
relatively short time, but costs a lot of energy.
Normal-temperature anaerobic ferment treatment is
used in Yantai. This saves energy and has good
sanitation effects too.
6.4 Biogas Digester
The application of biogas technology in
China dates back to the early 1950s, when
electricity was not available in rural areas. But it
did not last very long due to lack of experience in
constructing and maintaining biogas digesters.
Since the 1970s, the development of biogas
digesters has entered a new phase. Numerous
biogas digesters have been built throughout the
country. Today, there are 6.5 million family-size
digesters serving 3.8% of China's population. A
preliminary target of some 20 million biogas
digesters and 10,000 electricity generating stations
based on biogas has been set. This would supply
about 5% of total household energy in near future.
The family digester is always connected with the
latrine and the pigsty. Human excreta, pig dung,
cow dung and crop residues are the main raw
materials used as feed stock. For methane
production, in volume as well as speed, human
excreta are the best among various feed stock. The
biogas digester, as a separate treatment method, is
more suitable to be used in small townships and
Direct use of night soil and biogas
feedstock or supplementary feedstock is frequently
associated with the risk of the spread of intestinal
parasites and other pathogens. In this context, the
Chinese biogas plants have certain advantages in
eliminating the risk because of their settling
chambers at the bottom have a long detention time
of about six months, which destroys more than
90% of the intestinal parasites and other pathogens.
Therefore, safe procedures for handling both
influent and effluent must be developed. Corrosive
H2S is more prevalent in the human waste than in
the animal dung. This may adversely affect engines
running on the biogas unless the gas is passed
though iron filings for purification [15].
Ecosan or ecological sanitation offers a
wide range of options, high tech and low tech, and
thus optimal and economic solutions can be
developed for each particular situation [16]. The
most common technology in ecosan systems is
source separation for urine and night soil, vacuum
toilets connected with biogas plants, composting
toilets or constructed wetlands etc. The list of
ecosan projects in the world are listed by GIZ in
2012 and case studies published by the Sustainable
Sanitation Alliance [17, 18].
Based on above experience, it is
concluded that the major technological intervention
required are:
Alternate technology to collected night soil
directly from toilets, i.e. pneumatic night soil
collection system in closed drum;
Transport of night soil, domestic waste and
suitable industrial waste to place of treatment;
Composting and pathogen removal of mix of
night soil, domestic waste and industrial
Packing and transporting of biofertilizer to the
farmers for application on farm lands.
` Apart from these issues, following major
issues need attention by the scientists.
7.1 Basic Need to Change the Design of Toilets
Presently the toilet designs are based on
use of water to flush out the night soil and urine,
and then the use of water medium to carry sewage
further to treatment plant or to river or lake. In
recently developed urban areas, some improved
method such as duel plumbing for using STP
effluent for toilet flushing is used to save water.
However, the sewage is generated. There is no
infrastructure developed at most of these places to
use STP effluent for irrigation purpose. The first
urgent need is to first use all the treated sewage for
irrigation purpose and secondly all the sewage
should be brought to STP for treatment. Thirdly,
technology and infrastructure should be developed
for water less separate collection, transport and
treatment of urine and night soil (mixing with
conditioner preceding to treatment) using various
options and their suitability to local conditions to
achieve waterless disposal of night soil to achieve
zero-discharge residential areas similar to zero
discharge industries.
7.2 Soil Bioreactor as Final Sink of Night Soil
Traditionally in India, night soil used to be
disposed in soil by various ways, to improve the
fertility of the soil. This is the natural cycle by
which the materials taken by biotic component
from abiotic component of the earth are returned to
earth making it rich to support the biological
component further. The most famous example of
raw human waste application might be China,
where human excrement was used for centuries in
an attempt to close the nutrient cycle in their fields,
something that agricultural scientist F.H. King
cited in the early 20th century as the reason behind
China’s seemingly perennial fertility.
Although there are still many technical
problems to be solved, appropriate technology of
night soil treatment can provide a safe perspective
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for re-using night soil in agriculture and
aquaculture. There is need to design a bioreactor to
utilize soil or industrial waste product as medium
to biodegrade the night soil into compost that is
pathogen free and physicochemically suitable as
compost for the agricultural fields. The water less
system was described in Japan due to water
scarcity and unavailability of sewerage system
Night soil contains nitrogen and
phosphorus much in excess of that needed for
anaerobic digestion. Excessive nitrogen present in
the digester causes ammonia toxicity, adversely
affecting the fermentative process. Excessive
phosphorus normally possesses no problem. Co-
digestion of night soil with cow dung has a
potential to suppress ammonia toxicity, as the
quantity of ammoniacal nitrogen released during
mixed digestion is low.
Thermophilic digestion of night soil was
found to generate more biogas compared to
mesophilic digestion, but both these types of
digestion has no differential impact on the gas
composition. Besides greater gas output,
thermophilic digestion also destroys the harmful
parasitic ova and pathogenic bacteria present in the
night soil. During the performance of night soil
based waste stabilization, it was observed that the
generation of methane (0.6 m3 of slurry per day)
was higher than the conventional digester (0.15
m3/m3 of slurry/day).
Following basic guidelines are suggested
for further research work to develop technology on
small and large scale for the waterless treatment of
night soil to produce biofertilizer for use in
Avoid use of water or preferably minimum
amount of water for disposal of night soil by
using appropriate methods like suction
method, which is currently used in aeroplanes.
Separate collection of urine and nigh soil from
toilets without using water and greywater from
kitchen and bathrooms.
Treatment of bath/kitchen waste water in
Effluent Treatment Plant and diversion of
treated water for toilet flushing, or irrigation of
garden or farms or to rainwater storage
developed in each locality.
Diversion of rejects of ETP/STP having
mineral content to night soil transportation
Use of stabilized sediment of STP as
biofertilizer in agricultural farms
Hygienic collection and transport of urine for
treatment and final used of treated urine in
agriculture as fertilizer
Hygienic collection and transport of night soil
to the place of treatment, which may be a
common place for certain residential area or
inside housing society or township.
Use of night soil conditioners (free flowing
particulate matter with large reactive area, may
be inorganic or organic), such as soil, domestic
waste or suitable industrial waste (ex. fly
ash/red mud from aluminium plant/ SMS metal
slag/lime stone dust in slurry form), to
condition night soil to make it suitable for
transport, for controlling odor and further
processing/treatment at site or at a common
place for converting it into biofertilizer, which
can be sold to farmers or any person for his
Research on different options to design night
soil treatment unit by augmentation of
anaerobic/aerobic processes for conversion
within a minimum possible time
Design of family size and community size
treatment units
Developing infrastructure technology for
packing, transport and distribution of
composted biofertilizer to the farmers.
Drawl of river/lake water for domestic use as
make up water only by water supply authority.
Demonstration farms on use of night soil based
biofertilizer with emphasis on safety and
quality of green agricultural products
Public awareness programme on safety and
benefits of night soil based biofertlizer to the
soil and crops
Smaller drain for rain water harvesting system
up to rain water cum raw water pond in the
vicinity may be planned; this pond will also
receive excess treated greywater. Pipeline
interconnection of all raw water/ rain water
pond with necessary overflow system to river
may be required.
9.1 Source of Nutrients for Plants
The agricultural soils are becoming increasingly
short of phosphorus [19], which is important
limiting nutrient for plants [20]. Similar case is
with potassium. It is reported that if collected,
phosphorus in urine could supply 22% of total
demand [21]. Night soil is also a rich source of
organic matter and nutrients to the soil.
9.2 Improvement in soil fertility and Crop
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By using biofertilizer, there is
improvement of soil fertility, agricultural
productivity (green products) and food security.
9.3 Recovery of Nutrients from Waste
Safe hygienic recovery and use of
nutrients, organics, trace elements, water and
energy from waste is feasible.
9.4 Water resource Conservation
Sustainable sanitation helps in
conservation of water resources in good quality,
leading to substantial increase in river flow even
during lean period. There is reduced water
requirement from river for municipal supply
system. Intake from river would be reduced from
160 l/day to 20 l/day as makeup water only.
9.5 Conservation of Non-renewable Resources
There is saving of non-renewable
resources and energy required for manufacture of
chemical fertilizers and availability of biofertilizer
would lead to less use of chemical fertilizers. Urea
& phosphorous requirement of import will be
9.6 Saving of Cost of Sewer Line and Sewage
Treatment Plant
No sewer line would be required in
town/city or villages (as no sewage will be
produced), only return water line would be required
up to effluent Treatment plant in the vicinity.
9.7 Integrated Waste Management
All so called waste from industries /
municipal / domestic areas will be utilized as
stabilizing conditioner for making fertilizer with
night soil. Thus, there would be no fly ash pond or
waste dump yard, saving the precious soil resource.
9.8 Rainwater Harvesting and Groundwater
Sustainable sanitation would have one
rainwater storage pond in each locality to receive
run-off water and excess treated greywater which
will help groundwater recharge, water conservation
and flood control in residential areas.
9.9 Improvement in Aquatic Ecology
Dead zone formation in the river due to
high sewage/ phosphorous load being generated
will vanish & thus increase aquatic life activities
Our traditional methods as well as the
experience in China, Japan, Sweden and America
indicated importance of waterless technology for
converting night soil in fertilizer, which can be
used to develop sustainable sanitation for night
soil, urine and domestic waste. This system would
help to develop zero waste-discharge residential
areas. It is necessary to segregate collection and
treatment lines of the kitchen and bathroom
wastewater, urine and night soil. Effluent
treatment plants may be utilized to treat grey
wastewater and the effluent can be used for
flushing and for irrigation or industrial use. Treated
urine will be used as urea biofertilizer. Night soil
may be composted with or without the suitable
industrial/domestic waste products, acting as night
soil conditioner, with the byproducts of fuel gas
and biofertilizer. This will reduce the enormous
intake of water; only make up water will be
required. As a result rivers would have substantial
increased flow and river water that might be
utilized for irrigation and water ways. Suitable
research intervention is required for pneumatic
collection of night soil from the family or
community area, its transportation to treatment
sites, supply of fuel gas for electricity production or
for household cooking, and supply chain of
biofertilizers to farmers and consumers to make
sustainable sanitation successful and depollution of
water resources.
The authors wish to thank the Managing
Director, Grass Roots Research and Creation India
(P) Ltd. for providing facilities for collection of
information and preparation this article.
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