Clean water is essential for life and is one of the most natural resources on Earth. Wastewater, which has been contaminated by human use, is also a valuable resource, especially with water shortages and recurring droughts in many parts of the world. But wastewater cannot be released back into the environment until it is treated as it contains harmful substances.
Nine large-scale demonstrations in Europe
A team of engineers and researchers in Europe has initiated a project called ULTIMATE, which helps turn wastewater into a resource. The team recognized that wastewater is not just a reusable resource but is also a carrier for components and energy that can be reused, stored, treated, and extracted. The consortium chose nine business cases from biotech, petrochemical, and agro-food sectors report science and technology site Phys.org.
One of these projects is the Aretusa Consortium in Italy. It has the goal of increasing its annual water process capacity to four million cubic meters by treating the community wastewater. They started their project by treating the residue waters from two communities in Tuscany. Another partner of the €16.6 million project is the renowned Glenmorangie whiskey distillery in Scotland. Their purpose is to extract up to 800mg/L ammonia 800mg/L ammonia to be used as horticulture as well as to recover heat for use in the distillery processes.
Meanwhile, the horticultural site in the Nieuw Prinsenland in the Netherlands will take excess heat during summer and store and reuse it to cover greenhouse heat needs during wintertime. The project further aims to reuse nutrients and water after-treatment of the wastewater to remove plant pathogens and pesticides. To achieve zero wastewater discharge is their goal.
Strong partnership across Europe
Other organizations involved in the project are X-Flow (Netherlands), SUEZ (France), FCC Aqualia (Spain), Cranfield and Exeter Universities (UK), and Water Europe (Belgium). The four-year Horizon 2020 project is also referred to as the “Waster Smart Industrial Symbiosis.”
Senior researcher Gerard van den Berg told Phys.org that they have mobilized strong partnership of technology, industry, and water utility providers, applied research institutes, and business developers. They plan to create sustainability and economic value by valorizing the resources from the water cycle.
The approaches they used in the project promise benefits, including a new type of revenue through waste management and lower costs. The process is not only legal but it likewise offers business opportunities. The European Commission, which is the executive branch of the European Union responsible for proposing and implementing decisions of the European Parliament, has long acknowledged the potential of exploiting waste management and adopted the new Circular Economy Action Plan. The new plan is one of the main blocks of the European Green Deal, an agenda for sustainable growth.
Water quality and wastewater: statistics
According to the United Nations-Water, which coordinates the efforts of international organizations and UN entities working on water and sanitation issues, over 80% of the world’s wastewater is released into the environment without adequate treatment despite enormous opportunities to exploit wastewater as a resource. Once discharged into the world’s waterways, it creates environmental, climate-related, and health hazards. Urbanization also exacerbates the challenge due to growing wastewater generation. About 50% of the world’s population today live in cities but that will grow to 70% by 2050. Most cities nowadays don’t have adequate resources and infrastructure to address wastewater management sustainably and efficiently. Some water-related diseases, such as schistosomiasis and cholera, remain widespread in many developing nations where only less than 5% of urban and domestic wastewater is treated before being released into the environment.
Wastewater in homes includes water from sinks, toilets, bathtubs, dishwashers, washing machines, and showers. Industries and businesses also contribute their share of wastewater that must be treated since water use is interconnected. Although nature has a way of coping with small amounts of water pollution and wastes, it can be overwhelmed if we do not treat the billions of gallons of water produced every day.
Around 1.8 billion people in the world also use a source of drinking water that is contaminated with feces and this puts them at risk of contracting cholera, polio, dysentery, and typhoid. All the more reason why wastewater is far from being something to ignore or discard. It plays a significant role in meeting the water demand in enhancing industrial development and energy production and expanding cities.
In 2017, the theme for UN-Water World Day was Wastewater and it helped raise awareness of the global problem. The awareness created momentum among like-minded groups to drive change.
Baseline water stress score worldwide
Baseline water stress measures the total annual water withdrawals expressed as a percent of total annual available flow to available renewable water supplies. Over a quarter of the global population faces extremely high levels of baseline water stress due to municipal, industrial, and agriculture withdrawals on available water supply. Qatar is one of the countries facing extremely high-stress levels with a score of 4.97 in a score between zero and five. It is followed by Lebanon (4.82), Israel (4.82), Iran (4.57), Jordan (4.56), Libya (4.55), Kuwait (4.43), Saudi Arabia (4.35), Eritrea (4.33), United Arab Emirates (4.226), San Marino (4.14), Bahrain (4.13), India (4.12), Pakistan (4.05), Oman (4.04), Turkmenistan (4.04), Botswana (4.02), Chile (3.98), Yemen (3.97), and Cyprus (3.97).
In low-income areas of towns and cities within developing countries, wastewater is discharged into the informal drainage channel or surface water drain, sometimes with very little or without treatment. If wastewater is not properly treated, it can negatively impact human health and the environment. The impacts include harm to wildlife population, fish, beach closures, oxygen depletion, and restrictions on shellfish and fish harvesting.
Global freshwater use
Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, reported on the economic shift towards more resource-intensive consumption and that the growing global population has increased global freshwater use by nearly six-fold since 1900. Freshwater use means freshwater withdrawals for agriculture, municipal, and industry uses. As of 2014, the global freshwater use stood at 4.07 trillion, measured in cubic meters. In 1901, global freshwater use was only 671.131 billion m3.
When properly treated, wastewater can be a source of water for many purposes. It is fundamental to protect the health of the ecosystems.