Sanitation remains a global challenge, both in terms of access to toilet facilities and resource intensity (e.g., energy consumption) of waste treatment. Overcoming barriers to universal sanitation coverage and sustainable resource management requires approaches that manage bodily excreta within coupled human and natural systems. In recent years, numerous analytical methods have been developed to understand cross-disciplinary constraints, opportunities, and trade-offs around sanitation and resource recovery. However, without a shared language or conceptual framework, efforts from individual disciplines or geographic contexts may remain isolated, preventing the accumulation of generalized knowledge. Here, we develop a version of the social-ecological systems framework modified for the specific characteristics of bodily excreta. This framework offers a shared vision for sanitation as a human-derived resource system, where people are part of the resource cycle. Through sanitation technologies and management strategies, resources including water, organics, and nutrients accumulate, transform, and impact human experiences and natural environments. Within the framework, we establish a multitiered lexicon of variables, characterized by breadth and depth, to support harmonized understanding and development of models and analytical approaches. This framework's refinement and use will guide interdisciplinary study around sanitation to identify guiding principles for sanitation that advance sustainable development at the nature-society interface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10446-10459
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry

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