EcoPro Projects: Annual Report 2008-2009

Tags: outreach EM effective microorganism sustainable water management sanitation ecosan toilet solid waste management waste segregation training
Waste_seperation_1mEcoPro’s work in four areas: ecological sanitation, water resource management, solid waste management, and educational materials and training. Working with a Puducherry-based NGO called Ekoventure, EcoPro has installed ecosan toilets in several nearby villages. They have also conducted ‘wise water management’, an educational program funded by UNICEF.

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EcoPro Projects team works in several areas of public hygiene and environmental health i.e. sanitation, solid waste management, water resource management, waste water treatment, and the rehabilitation of water bodies and soils.   

Another perspective on hygiene

When we think of hygiene, we think of getting rid of microbes. It is generally understood by the public that hygiene equals absence of microbes or “germs”. This is further reinforced by advertisements for cleaning agents and pest-control inputs, in journals, cinema, on hoardings and TV. However, their application is very limited and this mind-set and practice of “eradication of microbes” in hygiene, benefits nobody but the manufacturers of the products. Moreover, cleaning and pest-control agents are ecologically non-sustainable and only add to the environmental pollution. But there is a historical background and logic to the prevailing attitude. And there is a way out of the conventional approach.


Historical background of hygiene

In the mid-nineteenth century, a conscientious physician from Europe was obliged to warn his patients against all forms of surgery: more patients died from surgery, due to iatrogenic infections, i.e. caused by the doctor, than from the various diseases for which they were made to undergo surgery. The development of modern surgery could only take off when disinfectants were discovered, by Semmelweis and by Lister, and phenol (carbolic acid) was introduced into mainstream medicine by Lister. When a surgeon could kill all micro-organisms on the particular patch of skin through which his knife was to enter the patient’s body, surgery was rendered hygienically safe. Only then, in the late 1870’s, modern surgery started its rapid and glorious course from operations on appendix, hernia, gall-bladder, and stomach, to open heart surgery, organ transplantations, limb replacements, and endoscopic minimally invasive surgery, etc. The discovery of microbe-killing substances (i.e. biocides) was indeed a breakthrough for surgery and medicine.

However, it is unwise and unhealthy to regard the annihilation of all microbes on the body surface as a step towards physical health and hygiene. It is harmful to make annihilation of all microbial life the basis for hygiene in a household, and it is ecologically even more disastrous to pursue it in all human environments or all environment in general. The environmental disaster has set in already. In the same way as agriculture has become a major polluter of our environment, “hygiene” too contributes heavily to the burden on the environment. Not only do we discharge excessive amounts of liquid and solid wastes into soil and water bodies, not only do we make rivers and lakes into open sewers unfit for fishing, household, agricultural and recreational use, we also undermine nature’s mechanisms for self-purification and revival by killing the very organisms that are responsible for the recycling of elements.

Microbes are pretty much everywhere on this globe, several kilometers inside the earth, in rocks and volcanoes, and in thermal vents in the deep sea. Microbes or uni-cellular organisms were the first forms of life, some 3.8 billions years ago, preparing the development of higher organisms and involved in the development of the globe’s atmosphere making it fit for higher life forms. Homo sapiens evolved in the presence and with the help of microbes. Microbes protect our skin, our bodily orifices, our digestion; they are responsible for the development of our immune system, for manufacturing vitamins, and for the uptake of nutrients and calories from food. While our bodies contain about a billion cells, it has been estimated that there are hundreds of trillions of microbes in our gut. By number, we are definitely so much more microbial than human. While Louis Pasteur discovered that the organisms of yeast were responsible for the formation of alcohol, microbiology originally progressed through the discovery of disease-causing germs. Modern microbiology knows that, in comparison to the number of microbial species – unidentified and identified –, the number of pathogens is indeed negligible. Hence, it is scientifically appropriate to state that homo sapiens has to live along with and amongst microbes, and that efforts to eliminate microbes are based on misconceptions of biology and health. It should come as a relief to realize that there is another approach to hygiene besides biocidal warfare and that alternative techniques and inputs are available. One of these technologies is EM technology, the use of “Effective Micro-organisms”.


EM technology

EM stands for “Effective Micro-organisms” and is a liquid culture with basically three genera of microorganisms, i.e. lactobacilli (as in curd and Sauerkraut), yeast (as in idlis, bread, beer and wine), and photosynthetic or phototrophic bacteria (as in some pickles and cheeses, and in the roots of water hyacinths). These organisms are not being modified by genetic engineering, they are safe and easy to handle and cause no harm even if accidentally ingested. Since 2000 EM is produced in India, too, and being made available at affordable rates.

Prof. Teruo Higa, an agriculturist from Okinawa, Japan, developed EM. He had made the accidental and fortunate discovery that some symbiotic aerobic and anaerobic organisms jointly exhibit stronger and more interesting properties than the individual organisms on their own. In 1982, he went public with his product in Japan, and in 1989 in the international domain. By now, EM is manufactured in 50 countries and used in more than 150.

EM was developed for the agricultural sector and improved the quantity as well as the quality of crops: taste, scent, color intensity, longevity. Surprisingly, the first users also reported of its power to counteract “rot, stink and rust”. If EM can control the fouling of organic debris, it can also control associated pest nuisance – flies, cockroaches – and the spread of pathogens. It became obvious that EM could be utilized for composting and solid waste management, and in sewage and effluent treatment. And if EM is anti-oxidant or anticorrosive, it can also find use in medical and technical contexts.

Thus EM is successfully used in agriculture and horticulture, in animal husbandry and aquaculture (fish, shrimp etc.), in composting and solid waste management, in sewage and effluent treatment, in environmental rehabilitation of wastelands and of eutrophied water bodies – and in the management of hygiene.


Practical steps of preparation and use

EM is made available as EM1 or so-called EM stock solution. This contains the microbes in a semi-dormant state (as spores) and has a shelf life of six months. EM1 needs to be activated or extended by mixing one volume part EM1 with one volume part of jaggery or molasses and twenty volume parts of water. This mixture needs to be placed in an airtight container of food-grade plastic and kept undisturbed in a shaded place of stable temperature to ferment for 5-10 days. Because of gas development during fermentation, metal or glass containers cannot be used, and the pressure building up in the container needs to be released once a day. After about one week, i.e. when the pH has dropped to below 4, activated EM solution (AEM) is ready for use. This should be used within one month.

In agriculture AEM is diluted in the range of 1:500 to 1:1,000, in wastewater treatment from 1:500 to 1: several thousands. Wherever its use has benefits, EM proves to be a cost-efficient input.


EM use in sanitation and hygiene

The hygienic need of our bodies and surrounding is not sterility, but cleanliness, freedom from unpleasant odors, and freedom from agressively virulent microbes. It makes no sense to ever try to establish aseptic conditions on a floor – including a hospital floor – as every foot or shoe walking over brings along millions of organisms. It is indeed an effect of aggressive hospital hygiene that the most virulent microbes have developed resistance against all antibiotics and disinfectants and now threaten the life of in-patients more than any microbe outside hospital surroundings.

If we are ready to accept an eco-friendly approach to hygiene, EM may be used to replace most cleaning agents. Instead of killing all life-forms, the beneficial microbes of EM establish themselves against pathogens and create an environment in which pathogens are not fostered.

EM can be applied on toilets and in bathrooms as it dispels unpleasant odors within seconds, on floors and wall surfaces, shelves and in cupboards. It controls the development of fungus and mouldy odors, and eliminates fly nuisance and cockroaches, i.e. major vectors of pathogens. In practice, AEM solution is diluted in the range 1:50 to 1:200 (for floor surfaces), and in toilet bowls and urinals it may be sprayed undiluted. After about two weeks, even the desired shine on tiled surfaces will appear.

One precaution should be noted: Surfaces (e.g. Cudappa stone) that suffer from acids such as lime juice or vinegar will also suffer from undiluted (very acidic) AEM.


Steps to implement hygiene management with EM

Dispense with (lock away) all biocidal hygiene agents (disinfectants, chlorine) – do not mix the use of biocides with the use of a microbial agent. Hygiene personnel are conditioned to “smell” cleanliness – initially they will miss the scents added to the conventional hygiene agents.

Issue AEM in small amounts, i.e. enough for one day or a few days.

Purchase a household sprayer to apply AEM full strength in toilets and urinals, preferably late at night, and leave it without flushing overnight.

Wash all surfaces (toilet bowls, urinals, sinks, floors, walls etc.) with AEM diluted in water 1:200 (e.g. 50 ml in 10 litres of water), as frequently as it was done with other cleaning agents.

For quick removal of stains, use detergents or soaps.

Use AEM in the last floor wash to let the (EM) microbes establish themselves.


It should be noted that long-term use of EM and its side effects are beneficial too: Wastewater gets inoculated with EM, thus leading to improved wastewater treatment and reducing the burden on any treatment plant and on the environment, rather facilitating the re-use of wastewater after treatment.

It is obvious from the above that with the use of EM technology hygiene, composting, gardening, and wastewater treatment become eco-friendly practices. EM input makes it possible to dispense with environmentally burdening household agents, and helps to close the natural ecological loops, transforming liquid and solid wastes into resources and facilitating quick and easy re-use of treated and processed waste materials onsite.


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