Matter that matters A study of household routines in a process of changing water and sanitation arrangements

University dissertation from Linköping : Linköping University Electronic Press

Abstract: Our society changed, but the urban water and sanitation system of today is roughly the same as it was 100 years ago. The system is designed for, developed from and sustained by human activities, and has since its introduction affected household patterns of routine activities. The urban water and sanitation system is now being criticised for not being sustainable due to excessive material, energy and chemical use, and failure to recycle and reuse resources. Altering household practices is perceived as one important step towards improved sustainability.In this study, two changes in water and sanitation arrangements at the household level are analysed: individual meters for volumetric billing of hot and cold water, and dry toilets with separate collection of urine and faeces. These arrangements increase system transparency, and their proponents believe that the arrangements enhance resource recycling and/or rsource savings. However, success in this regard can only be achieved if accompanied by appropriate household routines. The extent to which such appropriate routines come about and why (not) is the focus of attention in this study; the aim is to describe and analyse the interaction between householder routines and changes in water and sanitation arrangements.This study takes as its starting point household everyday life. A methodological combination of time-diaries, interviews, physical measurements and simple observations is developed and implemented in two cases; the housing area Ringdansen with flats (volumetric billing) and the collective Gebers based on an ecological way of life (dry toilets). The theoretical approach is developed from time-geography and culture analysis. The methodological and theoretical approaches have proven useful and can be developed further.Household responded differently to the volumetric billing in Ringdansen, but in general, no sweeping routine changes took place in the households. A comparison of average total water usage per household (at an aggregated level) between the two cases, showed no significant difference. Water-use routines are also similar in the two areas, even though variations appear between households. There seems to be a socio-culturally defined lower limit for water use, regarded as necessary for maintaining sufficient standards of cleanliness and comfort, irrespective of the influence of ecological or economic incentives. Differences in household composition, built-in technical arrangements and existence of a garden (Gebers) explain the differences in hot and cold water usage between the two areas. The dry toilet was shown to have a decisive impact on toilet disposal routines; only biodegradable waste products are thrown into it and the cleaning agents are environmentally friendly toilet disposal routines that reach beyond the 'good' routines evolving from environmental concern. The relationship between changes in water and sanitation arrangements and householder routines may be expressed as follows: an extensive change in arrangements, either technical/physical, organisational and/or economical, results in more radical routine changes, and more so if combined. However, the improvement as regard ecological sustainability is conditional on what is socio-culturally accepted - social sustainability.