Sanitation is often viewed as an unmentionable social obligation. Efficiently delivering this public good may involve use of ecosystem services, such as pollutant assimilation in wetlands, yet sanitation need not only consume: recovered resources (nutrients, organic matter and water) may enhance multiple ecosystem services, thereby expanding the value of sanitation. However, potential linkages between sanitation and ecosystem services have received limited attention. Bridging these fields will reveal opportunities to support sustainability goals, particularly in settings with extensive ecological assets but limited economic means. Here we develop a conceptual framework defining pathways through which recoverable resources can enhance ecosystem services and shed light on the viability of exploring synergistic interactions between engineered and natural systems. We find underexplored potential, particularly relating to the contribution resource recovery could make to regional ecosystems in countries across the globe. Such integrative work is needed to advance knowledge of sanitation–ecosystem linkages and stimulate policy efforts to enhance sustainable development and resource cycles.
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The authors would like to acknowledge the Illinois Distinguished Fellowship and Dissertation Completion Fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for funding support for J.T.T., as well as support from the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for D.C.M. and J.S.G.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Supplementary Results, Methods, Figs. 1,2, Tables and refs. 1–33.
Summary of publications at the intersection of sanitation/resource recovery and ecosystem services literature
Co-location of recoverable resources with dominant land-cover types across 171 countries and territories
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Trimmer, J.T., Miller, D.C. & Guest, J.S. Resource recovery from sanitation to enhance ecosystem services. Nat Sustain 2, 681–690 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0313-3
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