How to Septic tank cleaning without losing lives?
In our cities, sanitation workers frequently work without any safety equipment, jumping into manholes and sewers and cleaning septic tanks, sludge, and toxic effluents with their bare hands. Furthermore, clogged septic tanks are ticking time bombs, emitting massive amounts of methane that can be lethal to humans.
Even though manual scavenging is illegal in India, manual septic tank cleaning is still practiced throughout the country.
Everyone who is reading this has probably walked or driven past a sewer, septic tank, or manhole that is being cleaned manually by humans. And we don't mind because we see it as a necessary evil. Nearly half of India's toilets are not connected to a sewerage system, which means they all have septic tanks.
However, because these septic tanks are not properly maintained, they eventually overflow and emit foul odors. And it is at this point that people begin to look for solutions, and the only one they are aware of is pumping out the septic tanks. And historically, the poorest communities in India have borne the brunt of this.
Indeed, according to the most recent socioeconomic caste census data, over 1,80,000 households in India are still reliant on manual scavenging to feed their families. Clearly, laws prohibiting the practice of manually cleaning septic tanks are ineffective.
We will continue to use human labor to clean our toilets, drains, sewers, and septic tanks as long as our sanitation infrastructure remains unchanged. And we will continue to jeopardize their lives in the process.
In 2019, there have been more than ten news reports from across the country of people dying while cleaning septic tanks, including Mumbai, Chennai, New Delhi, Gujarat, and Coimbatore. Furthermore, manual cleaning of septic systems does not remediate the waste in any way. Toxins from waste continue to leech into our groundwater and soil, eventually making their way into the air and polluting all of the vital life systems we require to survive.
Our public sanitation infrastructure requires radical transformation. The municipal corporation in Mumbai spent a lot of money to buy robots to clean sewers. The New Delhi government is following suit. Robotic technology is also being used in Kerala to replace manual scavenging. But this isn't always what we need.
All public toilets must be replaced with bio-toilets.
All community toilets, as well as toilets at railway stations, airports, bus depots, highways, and tourist attractions, must become fully functional bio-toilets so that waste can be biologically treated without the need for human intervention. Bio-toilets will not only eliminate the need for septic tanks, but will also help us save water in toilet maintenance. Furthermore, bio-toilets' treated water can be used for gardening and planting. Bio-toilets are also climate agnostic, meaning they can be used in any part of India, regardless of terrain or climatic conditions.
However, that is still in the future. Replacing sanitation infrastructure in such a large country is not something that can be accomplished overnight. Sanitation infrastructure does not exist in many parts of India and must be built. And, first and foremost, we must create individual, corporate, and governmental will to initiate this change.
Separating and draining household waste into greywater and blackwater is becoming more common in the developed world, with greywater being allowed to be used for watering plants or recycled for toilet flushing.