The sanitation ladder and waste hierarchy

Generally speaking, all countries are aiming to improve their standards of sanitation and waste management, and have many policies and regulations to try and achieve these improvements. We will look at some of these regulations in later study sessions, but the sanitation ladder and the waste hierarchy provide an excellent summary of these aims.

The sanitation ladder

The sanitation ladder provides a measure of progress towards the provision of adequate sanitation facilities for every household. The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) version of the ladder is shown in Figure 1.3.

The lowest rung of the ladder is open defecation, where people without access to latrines or toilets deposit their faeces in open spaces. Unimproved facilities are one step above open defecation and include latrines that do not ensure the separation of faeces from humans. The next stage is shared facilities, which are facilities that would be classed as improved, but are shared by two or more households. At the top of the ladder are the improved facilities, where human contact with faeces is avoided. Different types of latrine facilities are discussed in Study Session 6.

Figure 1.3 The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) sanitation ladder.

The waste hierarchy

The waste hierarchy is shown in Figure 1.4 and is discussed in Study Session 9. The hierarchy ranks the different ways of dealing with waste in order of desirability. At the top is waste reduction, which means not generating waste in the first place or minimising the amount of waste produced. Below that is waste reuse (for example, refilling a drinks bottle), followed by recycling (processing of wastes into new raw materials). A fourth option is the recovery of energy by burning or biological treatment. Disposal, ideally in a landfill site, is the final option for any wastes that cannot be dealt with in any other way. A landfill site is an area of land set aside for the final disposal of solid waste.

Figure 1.4 The waste hierarchy.

The top three stages of the hierarchy (reduction, reuse and recycling) are often referred to as the ‘3 Rs’, a term we will use throughout this Module.

What are some of the ways that you could reuse wastes at home.

Show answer

Some suggestions are to:

  • use empty food containers to store food that was bought loose
  • refill plastic drinks bottles with water
  • use clothes from your oldest child to dress younger children
  • use worn-out clothes as cleaning cloths
  • give books to friends when you have finished with them.

Last modified: Friday, 29 July 2016, 8:59 AM