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Demystifying the unmentionable subject of dealing with 'waste'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 16, 2012

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With more than a million households nationally that do not have access to mains sewage, Simon Parker welcomes the publication of a new book.

It all started with a chemical toilet. Chemical toilet... those two words still possess the power to conjure real loathing.

The chemical toilet, that skulked in a corrugated iron shed in the corner of our yard, half covered in ivy like a veil of deceit, concealing the terrible pit that lurked behind the door, with its stiff latch and voracious insect life.

It wasn't so much the smell that offended, but the fear of what lurked beneath the murky surface of the vat, over which we perched on wooden slats.

On the slopes of Carn Marth, above the village of Lanner, the Victorian granite villa of my childhood was behind the times in many ways – even for the 1960s. But it was particularly archaic in the area of sanitation.

These days, their modern – and generally effective – successors are called septic tanks or waste disposal systems. We called it the cesspit. A foul-smelling, overflowing, fly-infested hole that wouldn't have looked out of place in some developing countries.

And while other children dreamed of a new football, we hoped Santa might bring a length of gleaming sewage pipe connected to the mains.

However, in the absence of full conversion to the local sewerage network, we would probably have made do with a copy of a new book that aims to demystify and sanitise the whole unmentionable subject.

With sections on everything from nitrification to solid separation, percolation filters to leak plugging, reed beds to leach fields, and living soakaways to something called the jam-jar method, the 170-page guide has been produced by the Centre for Alternative Technology.

Written by Nick Grant, Mark Moodie and the aptly-named Chris Weedon, the less-than-snappily titled Choosing Ecological Sewage Treatment turns out to be packed with detailed information on practical ways to make the most of being off-mains, rather than concentrating on the problems.

With approximately one million properties in the UK that do not have access to mains sewage, the authors try to advise those moving into existing properties or planning a new-build about choosing and understanding variety of systems.

"Many existing off-mains sewage systems are in a state of disrepair, are not doing the job they were set up to perform, or are doing it in an ecologically harmful way," said Chris Weedon.

"Often a little information and orientation is all that is required to enable an old system to be brought back to its former glory.

"This book is intended as a first step for those who need a new system but who do not know the technological options available."

Written with both authority and humour, the authors demystify a subject most people have never even had to consider.

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