E4C: What is one thing that a lot of us don't
know, but should know about poop?
SK: Everyone knows that poop smells bad
and can make you sick but what few people
think about is that poop can also be an
invaluable resource, both from both public
health and environmental perspectives. An
adult will excrete most of the nutrients that
we eat back into the environment in our
poop and pee. These nutrients are critical
for plant growth and soil restoration. If
treated properly, poop can be transformed
from a pathogenic and smelly mess that
causes illness and environmental degradation, into a rich fertile soil that can be used
to grow more food.
E4C: What is one of the promising trends
that you see in sanitation in Haiti and other
SK: Haiti’s government sanitation program
is very young, with the sanitation directorate
only being formally established in 2011, but
already one of the four pillars of their national strategy is the valorization of human
waste. It is encouraging to see this objective
incorporated into a national sanitation strategy early in its development.
Many countries are beginning to move
in this direction but it is late in the game.
Changes to existing systems are so much
more challenging then actually building
sustainability criteria into the system from
the get go. As Haiti’s first wastewater
treatment system was constructed just last
year, there is basically a clean slate for future
sanitation developments and the inclusion of
recycling wastes into the countries sanita-
tion infrastructure will have a huge impact
on Haiti’s soils.
E4C: In your work, what has been one of the
most instructive mistakes that you've made,
and what did you learn from it?
SK: One of my biggest mistakes came from
being overly enthusiastic about poop. When
SOIL first began working in Port au Prince we
were so eager to demonstrate that poop can
actually be a resource that we may have gone
too far with our enthusiasm to the point
where people were coming to the compost
site to watch the dumping and hopping up on
the edges of the compost bin to get a closer
look. When the cholera epidemic broke out in
Haiti in October 2010 we had to close down
one of our compost sites because the community had become so comfortable with the
process that people were no longer taking
the appropriate precautions.
We are now much more cautious to
present both the dangers and the potential
benefits simultaneously so that people
understand that in order to make human
wastes safe they must first be transformed
through a carefully controlled process. Poop
is dangerous if not treated properly, but compost made from human wastes is an incredible resource. People have to be given credit
for being able to understand the difference.
E4C: What do you think is a dead end in your
field that some people just won't let die?
SK: One of the benefits of coming into a field
from an outside discipline (I am an ecologist
working in a field traditionally dominated
by engineers) is being able to provide a new
perspective on practices that are rarely questioned from within the discipline. I have always felt that sewage discharge into oceans
is a shortsighted approach to a problem with
long-term implications. For over 100 years
engineers have been designing deep-water
Five questions with Sasha Kramer
SASHA KRAMER'S ENTHUSIASM FOR RECYCLING POOP IS CON TAGIOUS. After hearing from
her, it's not hard to imagine the need to give your indoor bathroom a Stone-Age renovation. She
developed EcoSan latrines that store human waste in removable 15-gallon drums for composting. Toilets that transform waste into compost are the key to healthy soils and sustainable living,
Kramer says. In that case, maybe everyone's toilet should be a modified pit latrine?
Another key to sustainability is sanitation itself. Kramer promotes both, taking her message of back-end recycling (get it?) to camps and communities in Haiti that have no waste
treatment systems in place at all. To carry out the work, Kramer co-founded the non-profit
organization SOIL, Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods. SOIL and its partners build and
manage latrines, compost centers and vegetable gardens and they hold sanitation workshops
in Port au Prince.
Kramer's interests don't end at poop, of course. She holds a doctorate in Ecology from
Stanford University, and she's an adjunct professor of International Studies and a Visiting
Scholar at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Miami. She also co-founded SOL, Sosyete Oganize pou Lanati, a Haitian non-profit advocate for environmental
justice and ecologically sound development. We asked her five questions.
ENGINEERING FOR CHANGE