EcoEng Newsletter No. 11, October 2005

Appropriate management of onsite sanitation

- New environmental legislation in Finland changes policies and interpretations

Content No. 11/05
Title page / Index
From the editors
Faces: H.v.Bohemen
Review: EE Book
Overview, Etnier
Kirk et al.
Composting (ch. 4)
Fecal composting
Policy Finl, Mattila
Desert infrastruct.
Writers' Fund
Ecosan Durban 05
Good bye T. Rohrer
Various issues:
Joe's Corner
Mailing list

By Dr. Harri Mattila
Häme Polytechnic, Environmental Engineering
Visamäentie 35 B
13100 Hämeenlinna

Harri Mattila has more than 20 years experience in the field of water supply and sanitation and he has worked also with lake protection and conservation projects. He has worked with private as well as public sector and the duties have varied from training and education to project management of different implementation projects. He has worked also in development cooperation projects in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia. Today he is working as Senior Lecturer at Häme Polytechnic in Finland. This article is an abstract of the doctoral dissertation by Harri Mattila.

Key words: sanitation, onsite sanitation, decentralized sanitation, wastewater treatment, management options, environmental legislation, SCOT, non-point source pollution, water services, DESAR


The situation in Finland


In Finland, the lack of proper sanitation causes deterioration of the environment, especially eutrophication of surface waters and, in some cases, pollution of groundwater. There are more than 700,000 residential properties - either summer cottages or year-round houses - outside sewerage networks in the country. The wastewaters from these properties were mainly treated in septic systems until the end of the 20th century.

Since the beginning of the new millennium, the legislation concerning onsite sanitation has changed completely. For it to operate as planned, research on the proper management of onsite sanitation is required. The main objective of the doctoral dissertation by Harri Mattila was to find answers to the questions: How to put the new laws and regulations into practice without major friction? What will the consequences of the new legislation be? What main topics should be researched further to avoid the deterioration of the environment due to wastewaters from sparsely populated areas?

Fig. 1: The effect of social construction of technology (SCOT) on the selection of solutions for onsite sanitation. An optimal solution, either for the environment or the house owner or for both (e.g., dry toilet plus infiltration) is rarely implemented because of the various elements affecting the decision-making process. The final solution to be implemented is a compromise between different alternatives which is often not the best one, not even for the house owner.


After collecting empirical data from different sanitation projects in Finland and a number of international conferences, as well as studying the theory of Social Construction of Technology (SCOT), path dependence theory, stakeholders theories and futures research methods, the author makes comparisons, analyses and reviews of the findings and gives his conclusions and recommendations concerning the research topics. Action research, which aims at interaction between practice and theories, is used as the strategy of the research.


Main findings

Figure 2. Point source pollution. The outlet of the wastewater treatment plant of the municipality of Toijala in Finland. The sign "WASTEWATER OUTLET" (PURKUPUTKI) shows the point source of pollution.

The main findings can be condensed into the following conclusions. Finland has enough up-to-date laws and regulations concerning onsite sanitation. The most important thing is that the legislation is interpreted with equal strictness all over the country to uphold respect for it. The quality of all activities taken must be first rate, availability of professional sector people is to be secured and product development - especially in dry toilet technology - must continue. The methods of futures research should be applied more seriously in the water and sanitation sector to ensure that we are moving in the preferred direction.

There are also a couple of recommendations for future actions and research topics given. The research implies the question whether the dominating trend toward larger sewer networks and larger centralized wastewater treatment plants in Finland is desirable or should we also study the decentralized alternatives? Should we totally eliminate the concept of non-point source pollution to highlight the individual's responsibility for the environment (as the new legislation in Finland does)?

Figure 3. Non-point source pollution. Even if it is known, that runoff water from densely populated areas carries a lot of solids and harmful material into water courses and the point of the source is clearly seen.

Finnish research, experiences and product development of onsite sanitation could help in solving the world's sanitation crisis if only given enough resources. It would support the country's own environmental protection, employment and economy as well.




Mattila, H. 2005. Appropriate management of on-site sanitation, Tampere University of Technology, Finland, Publications 537. 151 p.

© 2005, International Ecological Engineering Society, Wolhusen, Switzerland