Good water quality is essential to human health, social and economic development, and the ecosystem. However, as populations grow and natural environments become degraded, ensuring there are sufficient and safe water supplies for everyone is becoming increasingly challenging. A major part of the solution is to produce less pollution and improve the way we manage wastewater. A more circular and therefore more sustainable economy requires us to value wastewater for its potential, rather than discard or ignore it. More than just an alternative source of water, safe wastewater management could help protect our ecosystems and give us energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials.

Challenges and opportunities

Water must be carefully managed during every part of the water cycle: from fresh water abstraction, pre-treatment, distribution, use, collection and post-treatment, to the use of treated wastewater and its ultimate return to the environment, ready to be abstracted to start the cycle again. Due to population growth, accelerated urbanization and economic development, the quantity of wastewater generated and its overall pollution load are increasing globally.

The availability of safe and sufficient water supplies is inextricably linked to how wastewater is managed. Increased amounts of untreated sewage, combined with agricultural runoff and industrial discharge, have degraded water quality and contaminated water resources around the world. Globally, 80% of wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused, contributing to a situation where around 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.  development, and supporting sustainable agriculture.

Wastewater and Cities

Even in cities where wastewater is collected and treated, the efficiency of treatment may vary according to the system used. However, water used by a municipal authority for irrigating green spaces or cleaning streets does not need to be treated to a potable standard. Treating wastewater to a water quality standard appropriate to its intended use increases the potential for cost recovery. The growth of urban demand for water will require new approaches to wastewater collection and management. Indeed, reused wastewater may help address other challenges including food production and industrial development.

Wastewater and industry

Societal and environmental pressures over recent years have led to a growing movement for industry to reduce its wastewater and to treat it before discharge. Wastewater is now seen as a potential resource and its use, or recycling after suitable treatment, can provide economic and financial benefits. Societal and environmental pressures over recent years have led to a growing movement for industry to reduce its wastewater and to treat it before discharge. Wastewater is now seen as a potential resource and its use, or recycling after suitable treatment, can provide economic and financial benefits.

 

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