After the discovery of methane gas by Alessandro Volta in 1776, it took about 100 years before anaerobic processes for the treatment of wastewater and sludges were introduced. The development of high rate anaerobic digesters for the treatment of sewage and industrial wastewater took until the nineteen-seventies and for solid waste even till the nineteen-eighties. All digesters have in common that they apply natural anaerobic consortia of microorganisms for degradation and transformation processes. In view of this, it could be rewarding to evaluate the efficiency of natural ecosystems for their possible application. Examples of high rate anaerobic natural systems include the forestomach of ruminants and the hindgut of certain insects, such as termites and cockroaches. These “natural reactors” exhibit volumetric methane production rates as high as 35 l/l.d. The development of anaerobic reactors based on such natural anaerobic systems could produce eco-technologies for the effective management of a wide variety of solid wastes and industrial wastewater. Important limitations of anaerobic treatment of domestic sewage relate to the absence of nutrient and pathogen removal. A combination of anaerobic pre-treatment followed by photosynthetic post-treatment is proposed for the effective recovery of energy and nutrients from sewage. This eco-technology approach is based on the recognition that the main nutrient assimilating capacity is housed in photosynthetic plants. The proposed anaerobic-photosynthetic process is energy efficient, cost effective and applicable under a wide variety of rural and urban conditions. In conclusion: a natural systems approach towards waste management could generate affordable eco-technologies for effective treatment and resource recovery.

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