Global Outlook of Sewage Production, Collection, Treatment and Reuse

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The amount of wastewater produced per person has become increasingly relevant, particularly in developing countries where reducing waste generation and improving water supply are paramount objectives. Unfortunately, only a fraction of this wastewater is intended for reuse, leaving much untreated water discharged into the environment. This report provides a comprehensive global overview of wastewater production, collection, treatment and reuse (see Figure 3).

Domestic wastewater is generated by homes, schools, hospitals, farms and businesses as well as non-residential sources like stormwater. It contains pollutants and disease-causing organisms which must be treated to protect public health – like cholera, hepatitis B and salmonella.

Municipal wastewater is generated by commercial and industrial operations such as sewage treatment plants, factories, mines, farms and hotels. It typically contains pollutants, disease-causing organisms and foul odors. Furthermore, excess nutrients like nitrates or phosphates may be present which promote plant growth while increasing biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) in receiving waters, leading to fish kills and unpleasant smells.

Sewage treatment typically entails separating trash and large solid materials from the wastewater stream, settling the sediment, filtering, biological treatment, and tertiary disinfection to reduce bacteria, viruses, and parasites. This can be accomplished using various systems such as septic tanks, sewer systems or ponds.

Organic compounds typically consist of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and other elements and are broken down by microorganisms in treated water. Some organic compounds such as synthetic chemicals used for agriculture or industry can be more difficult to break down, leading to higher BOD levels when released back into receiving waters.

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Agriculture and industrial wastewater often contains high concentrations of nitrates and phosphates, which are used for fertilizing crops and providing aquatic life with essential nutrients. When too many of these substances enter an aquatic environment, they cause algae blooms which deplete oxygen supplies in receiving waters – leading to fish kills, foul odors, and other unpleasant outcomes.

The amount of wastewater produced per capita varies significantly across regions and countries, but is consistently high in the world’s major metropolitan areas. Conversely, wastewater production is close to zero in regions with few people and industrial activities such as the Sahara or inland Australia with low populations.

Organic wastes can be present in wastewater, from biodegradable material such as compost to sewage sludge and human faecal matter. When left untreated, these organic materials pose risks to receiving waters by clogging sewage treatment systems or soil absorption fields and increasing BOD (biochemical oxygen demand) levels when discharged back into the environment.

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Pollutants in wastewater can come from many sources, such as household appliances and waste, restaurants, hotels, businesses, farms, schools and hospitals. Unfortunately, they’re often contaminated with antibiotics, faecal coliforms, pesticides, fertilizers and other pollutants which have detrimental effects on human health and the environment.

These pollutants can be removed through a range of techniques, from simple septic tank treatments to more sophisticated technologies like electrochemical or oxidation-reduction treatment. Unfortunately, these methods tend to be costly and not suitable for all communities; consequently, wastewater management must balance costs with treatment efficiency when making decisions about which treatments work best.