This paper argues that modern, end-of-pipe sanitation systems are not the pinnacle of centuries of wastewater technology development, and may actually prove to be a technological dead-end: expensive to build, operate and maintain, and out of step with traditional wastewater management philosophy. A brief examination of a series of excreta and wastewater management systems from around the world and throughout history clearly shows that viewing faeces, urine and grey water as a worthless waste to be disposed of is only a modern concept, which ignores the realities of limited resource availability, and the obvious benefits to be had from closed-loop systems – as was clearly recognised in the past. While currently, expensive, technically complicated end-of-pipe sanitation systems dominate, several modern systems have been developed specifically to ensure an efficient resource recovery and reuse. Reconsidering and researching historical approaches to wastewater management and applying modern technologies to improve their functionality may contribute to the solution of many of today's sanitation and environmental problems.

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