Blog: News & Updates

Giving Waste the Right Treatment – the secret is in bacteria and enzymes

Farmers and other rural communities rely on products made from blends of bacteria and enzymes to treat their organic waste and waste water, but how effective are the products they buy? The answer is to look no further than the labels on the products.

Labels should supply vital information on what is known as the Colony-Forming Unit (CFU) count. The CFU indicates the number of viable bacteria (the total microbial activity) in a sample of a product. “Viable” refers to the ability of bacterial cells in the product to multiply. The more viable the cells, the stronger and more effective the product.

The CFU count is determined by laboratory tests undertaken by the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS). However, many products are not subjected to testing by SANAS and do not carry CFU information. Without knowing the CFU count, the buyer therefore has no way to determine the strength and effectiveness of a product.

Just as important as the CFU count is the methodology used to determine it. If the label contains the letters and figures SWJM:35, then you will know that the test has been undertaken according to the international best-practice standard. “We cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of knowing the CFU count and method used to determine it,” says Mike Mayne, founder of Cape Town-based Sannitree, a major supplier of environmentally friendly, biodegradable bio-enzyme products which it markets in South Africa and exports to 30 other countries.

Mayne notes that labels on Sannitree products contain information on the CFU count and the testing methodology. Products also comply with International Standards Organisation (ISO) specifications.

Not all enzymes are equal

Just as important, he says, are the types of enzymes in products. Enzymes break down the smaller solids in waste to enable bacteria to further digest the material.

However, enzymes are specific: in other words, an enzyme that breaks down fat will not break down protein. There is simply no way that one single product will work in pit toilets, septic tanks, drain lines, fat traps, sewage spills or on grease, foul odours and flies. There are also different categories of bacteria. Aerobic bacteria survive and grow in oxygenated environments, but anaerobic bacteria do not require oxygen to survive. Some anaerobes might even die in the presence of oxygen.

Tailor-made bio enzymes

Many products on the South African market are imported. They are usually generalised products, most likely using 75% aerobic bacteria and 25 % anaerobic, with no SANAS laboratory CFU count and a standard selection of enzymes. Travelling time and a long shelf life can have a negatiive effect on imported products.

What gives Sannitree the edge is that its products are tailor-made. The company formulates products to meet specific needs. From the time of its founding in Cape Town 30 years ago, Sannitree had the benefit of the expertise of world renowned enzymologist Dr PG Celliers. Most of his formulations are blended by Sannitree for its specialised products. Consider this: a busy restaurant will produce far more fat than a pit toilet, so Sannitree can tailor-make a product loaded with Lipase enzymes, which will perform far better than a general product. Likewise, an overloaded pit toilet has no chance with a general product because the CFU could be too low, but Sannitree can easily adjust the count.

Bacteria and enzymes are expensive items, and it stands to reason that if the CFU count is higher in one product than in that of a competitor, it will be more expensive. The best advice is to identify your specific need and order or buy a product with a SANAS-certified CFU count to ensure that it does the job.

Septic Tank Cleaning & Treatment: Chemical vs Enzymes

What is the buzz with chemicals and septic tanks – are they compatible?

In moderation they are acceptable. After all, you cannot be expected to tolerate bacteria in your toilet bowl and good hygiene is imperative in the home.But watch out for overkill – no need to saturate the toilet bowl with germ killer – so use it sparingly.

And most importantly, NEVER rinse bleach or caustics down your septic system as it will wipe out the entire microbial colony living peacefully inside your tank. Without those friendly microbial’s your effluent will not get broken down, and those killer chemicals will keep your poo in a suspended state of animation. Your tank will fill up too quickly, and before you know it, you will be forking out big bucks to have it pumped.

So what should you do when it comes to septic tank cleaning?

Rather adopt a basic maintenance program whereby you supplement the bacteria which is lost through general cleaning. By flushing Sannitree Bio-Enzymes down your toilet bowl every month you will keep the microbial colony alive and actually speed up the decomposition process that makes your tank tick.

Once those hungry Bio-Enzyme Granules reach the effluent layer inside your tank they begin to salivate and whip out their napkins and cutlery. It is like a buffet for them and they literally feast their way through the poo.

Another way to look at it is to see your septic tank as a mini eco-system. A healthy tank will show signs of life. Expect to see earthworms, small insects and perhaps a hobbit or two making their way through middle earth. Now imagine showering the poor creatures with acid rain in the form of harmful chemicals – this is why we recommend using disinfectants in moderation.

One last thing. If you own a pit toilet it is especially important to keep it biologically active. The knee-jerk reaction to dealing with a bad pit toilet smell is to toss down a bucket of sheep dip. This may kill the smell for about 24 hours, but it will return with a vengeance. Rather give the entire a toilet a good hose down. Add 100 grams of Sannitree Bio-Enzymes with copious water and if you can, give the effluent a stir with an old stick. This will puncture any gas pockets that typically form about a foot below the surface. The entire effluent layer will drop a couple of feet, giving you extra capacity – plus the smell will go away.

For more detailed information, please email us on – we have a whole team of poo specialists at your disposal.

Help, my septic tank is blocked up!

If your septic tank is blocked up, keep reading because we can probably save you quite a bit of cash.

A septic system is easy to understand, and once you identify the cause of the blockage you can implement the correct cure. (Using Sannitree Bio-Enzymes will of course reduce the incidents of blockages, but it helps to keep in the know.)

The good news is that there are only three possible reasons for your system clogging up:

1. It’s a simple paper blockage in the septic tank pipe

Firstly, if you are lucky, the pipe system leading to your tank could have a simple paper blockage. Follow the toilet exit pipe as it makes its way to the tank. Lift the first lid of the tank and have a squizz inside (yes, things could get smelly down there, but think of the plumbing costs you are saving). You should be able to see the top of a T-Piece pipe which carries the effluent (that’s a fancy name for poo) into the first compartment of the tank. Is it overflowing? If yes, get a stick and have a poke around inside the T-Piece. If it is a simple blockage it will loosen the paper up and your system will flow again. Alternatively, give it a jet of water from your hosepipe (and don’t throw the stick over your neighbours wall).

2. The tank is full of effluent

If things have not improved then you need to consider the second possibility: your tank is full of sh*t. On average, a tank will need to be pumped every 6 years – even if it is being treated with Sannitree Bio-Enzymes. The reason is that as the effluent is broken down it forms sludge on the bottom of your tank. This sludge cannot be broken down any further and needs to be mechanically removed by a suction truck. Ouch! This will cost a few bucks, but at least you have saved on calling a plumber out to tell you something you can figure out for yourself. To see whether your septic tank needs a pump-out, simply lift the second manhole and peer inside. If you can see bits of paper and poo, then call the pump-out people – those solids belong in the first compartment only.

3. The soakaway has packed up

If no signs of effluent are visible, then it means that your soakaway has packed up, and it can get expensive. Tell-tale signs of a clogged soakaway are a raised water level in the second compartment. Is the water level higher than the exit level of the outlet pipe? If yes, you have a more serious problem because fats and soaps have probably passed right through your system and coagulated in the walls of the soak-pit, forming a waxy cocoon that prevents effluent runoff from percolating away into the soil. Sorry, but you need to call a plumber for this. [NB! Do you live in an area with a high water table? Is it winter? If yes, smile and remember that the grass is always greener over the septic tank- the water will subside with the rains.]

Remember – Prevention beats cure!

To prevent problems from occurring in the first place, we suggest that you dose 100g of Sannitree Bio-Enzymes into your tank each month. If you have a high volume of people passing through your property (perhaps you own a B & B) –then we suggest that you also add 100g of Free Flo Granules. This will attack any fats and soaps that pass into your soakaway.

Need some specialised advice? Email us now on – remember, your poo is our bread and butter!