Sustainable Sanitation Strategies for Peri-Urban and Rural Developing Communities

EPA Grant Number: SU835525
Title: Sustainable Sanitation Strategies for Peri-Urban and Rural Developing Communities
Investigators: Oyanedel-Craver, Vinka
Current Investigators: Oyanedel-Craver, Vinka , Parola, Alessandro , Damicis, Jessica , Rosales, Jonathan , Rocchio, Joseph , Briones, Maria , Gorga, Mattia
Institution: University of Rhode Island
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2013 through August 14, 2014
Project Amount: $14,805
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Sustainable and Healthy Communities , P3 Challenge Area - Safe and Sustainable Water Resources , P3 Awards , Sustainable and Healthy Communities


This project has the main objective to develop economically, socially, and environmentally zero emissions sanitation systems for rural and peri-urban developing communities around the world. The Millennium Development Goals 2012 report stated that still 2.5 billion people do not have access to sanitation and about one billion people still practice open defecation. Poor sanitation not only has enormous negative effects on human health but also add a significant stress on several developing country’s struggling economy. The universal implementation of strategies such as toilets, hygiene promotion, and proper waste management could significantly reduce the economical burden of these countries


The treatment system proposed by ESW-URI combines well-known wastewater treatment principles with innovative sustainable approaches in order to develop a culturally appropriate alternative that will improve the economy, environment, and quality of life of the residents of San Mateo Ixtatán. The preliminary evaluation concluded that the best first step in the treatment system was the construction of a septic tank for primary solids removal. This would be followed by small-scale secondary and biosolids treatment options to showcase the various treatment methods, and to evaluate and compare their effectiveness. These secondary alternatives will be powered with off-the-grid energy, and the products of each treatment, either liquid or solid, will be reused for agricultural purposes and environmental restoration. Some of the secondary treatments alternatives considered include: onsite percolation, chlorination, media filter systems, waste stabilization in facultative ponds, peat-based treatment, constructed wetlands, locally available lime, stabilization, and biosolid stabilization through vermiculture.

Several design criteria have been laid out based on problems ESW-URI identified during previous visits. The proposed solution should:

  1. Match the professional capacity in the community and the lack of advanced engineering and technical skills by requiring a simple design that does not compromise efficiency;
  2. Rely on off-the-grid power due to an unreliable electricity supply that is prone to power outages and surges;
  3. Provide measurable benefits of the implemented sanitation practices since the community does not see it as a priority but rather as an expense;
  4. Restore natural resources; due to the discharge of untreated wastewater, local rivers are contaminated. Soil erosion due to deforestation and the use of chemical fertilizers also add to the environmental degradation of the community;
  5. Respect the culture and knowledge of the local community. The residents of San Mateo Ixtatán are proud of their Mayan heritage and have great indigenous knowledge of their natural resources;
  6. Ensure the transfer of the technology developed and the knowledge to maintain the technology. Helping the residents of the community to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to successfully operate and maintain the system is an essential aspect of this project, and of sustainability in general.

Expected Results:

The final product of the ESW-URI project is a zero-emission wastewater treatment system that reduces the contamination of natural water resources, reduces the dependence on chemical fertilizers, and restores topsoil in the community. The successful operation of the ESW-URI treatment system and the along educational opportunities developed as part of this project will help to raise awareness about the negative impact of poor sanitation on the societal, economic and environmental resources of the San Mateo Ixtatán community. It is also expected that once the community experiences the benefits of this system there will be an interest in replicating the system within the community and in other communities nearby. This will also increase the opportunities for creating an economic market based on building, operating, and maintaining a sanitary treatment processes

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report