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Sustainable Sanitation and Climate Change

by spotLESS Team

This year's World Toilet Day theme, "Sustainable sanitation and climate change," explores the imminent threat that climate change poses on sanitation systems throughout the world. Reliable sanitation systems to remove human waste are pivotal to keeping societies safe from dangerous pathogens. As different effects of climate change emerge, such as flooding, droughts, and rising sea levels, the risk to different elements of sanitation systems increases tremendously [1]. As progress is made to improve sanitation systems across the world, it is imperative that climate changes are addressed before they cause devastating impacts on vulnerable systems.

Today, billions of people live with sanitation systems that are vulnerable to climate change threats [1]. Toilets, pipes, tanks, and treatment plants all have the possibility to fail, spread raw sewage, and create further public health crises [1]. The impacts of climate change on sanitation systems are measurable and severe. Water scarcity is a threat that is continuing to grow in many parts of the world. By 2050, it is predicted that nearly 6 billion people could be living in conditions that lead to unprecedented competition for water and resources [2]. 

Water is a pivotal part of sanitation systems, used for flushing away waste and cleaning. Without adequate water to keep these systems safe and reliable, any sanitation systems that were developed will be rendered significantly less effective unless they are engineered in a way to work irrespective of water availability. Most sanitation systems are water and energy-intensive, creating greenhouse gas emissions throughout the process of a sanitation system: collecting, treating, and delivering water and transporting and treating human waste are inefficient processes, and working to make these systems more efficient would have a positive effect on the systems and climate change [2].

Climate change is a broad term that encompasses many smaller ideas, but one that is critically important right now is global warming. Global warming not only raises the risk of flooding, but also increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather [3]. If there is no change to the current trajectory of global warming, the population size at risk of severe flooding will change from 1.2 billion to 1.6 billion [2].

There is still hope: by understanding how climate change affects and stresses sanitation systems, it is possible to limit the devastation that climate change could cause. Therefore, changes must be made. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that if global warming is limited to an increase of 1.5°C instead of 2°C, climate-induced water stress can be reduced by up to 50% [4, 5].

When water stress is not an immediate threat in someone’s own life, it is easy to take sanitation for granted. World Toilet Day works to make progress to the goal that everyone has access to safe and reliable sanitation, At spotLESS, we share this goal and recognize the importance of sanitation to a society’s overall health. Our company was started out of the mission to create a toilet that could work without water - we hope that we can use our coatings to contribute to making sanitation systems more efficient and safe.

To learn more: www.worldtoiletday.info

  • WHO/UNICEF (2019): Joint Monitoring Programme 2019 update report: Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: https://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/jmp-report-2019/en/
  • UNESCO (2018), UN World Water Development Report 2018: Nature-based Solutions for Water: https://www.unwater.org/publications/world- water-development-report-2018/
  • NDRR (2015), The Human Cost of Weather-Related Disasters, 1995-2015: https://www.unisdr.org/2015/docs/climatechange/COP21_WeatherDisastersReport_2015_FINAL.pdf
  • Gregory Flato et al (2013), ‘Evaluation of climate models’, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/climate-change-2013-the- physical-science-basis/evaluation-of-climate-models/94BC2268C864F2C6A18436DB22BD1E5A
  • IPCC (2018), Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the Impacts of Global Warming of 1.5°C above Pre-industrial Levels and Related Global Greenhouse Gas Emission Pathways, in the Context of Strengthening the Global Response to the Threat of Climate Change, Sustainable Development, and Efforts to Eradicate Poverty: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/