Celebrated every March 22nd since 1993, World Water Day is designed to encourage people around the world to take action against global water issues.
With so many potential water issues to look at, each year a different theme is chosen. This years’ theme is wastewater. More specifically, looking at how to reduce and reuse wastewater. We can reduce wastewater by being more conscious of the water we use for everyday activities like: showering/bathing, hygiene, cooking, cleaning, and home/garden maintenance. We can reuse wastewater by identifying water that does not need to be treated or can easily be treated at home. Unfortunately, due to a lack of education and resources, worldwide, about 80% of wastewater returns to nature without being properly treated. As a result, unsafe water and/or poor sanitation results in more than 800,000 deaths per year.
All water intended to be used by humans goes through a cycle: abstraction, pretreatment, distribution, use, collection, post-treatment, and return to the environment. The health and efficiency of this cycle greatly affects the water we use and the water we return to nature. With the global population growing, demand for clean water will continue to increase – meaning demand for wastewater treatment will also increase. Let’s take a closer look at the three big users of water (cities, industry, and agriculture) and how they can do a better job to reduce and reuse wastewater.
It is estimated that by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. However, most cities in developing nations do not have existing infrastructure in place to safely manage all of the wastewater that will accompany the population growth. Developed cities that do have the infrastructure, will see increased demand requiring improvements and/or expansion of services. The potential of reusing wastewater could reduce a significant burden. Consider the many uses wastewater can serve for day to day life: toilet, dishwasher, clothes washer, garden/lawn watering, and more. A real-world example:
Dual distribution systems delivering reclaimed water. Since 1977 in St Petersburg, Florida, USA, a parallel network of pipes, separate from potable water mains, has served a mix of residential properties, and commercial and industrial parks, enabling them to use recycled water for irrigation, laundry, vehicle and building washing, and ornamental water features.
In 2009, in Europe and North America, water consumption by industries was 50% as compared to 4-12% in developing countries. Just like a home, businesses have to pay a bill to the water authority for the treated water they receive and use. So, the idea of using wastewater could present a significant cost savings. This water can be used for heating, cooling, laundry, toilets, and more. A real-world example:
Reclaiming water from mining. The Witbank coalfields are located around Emalahleni, a small city in South Africa dealing with worsening water scarcity. The Anglo American mining company built a water treatment plant that uses desalination technology to convert water from the mine into drinking water, and treat industrial water so it can be safely released into the environment. As an added benefit, in the treatment process, gypsum is separated from the water and used as a construction material. The plant provides a safe and secure water source to the city, meeting 12% of Emalahleni’s daily water needs.
Due to the increased use of harmful pesticides, the modern agricultural sector has become a significant source of water pollution. Water that has added chemicals and pesticides is used on crops and the runoff puts untreated, harmful wastewater back into nature. These practices not only endanger wildlife and water, but also people who work and farm these lands and the consumers of the end products.
In closing, we need to take a closer look at our wastewater and what to do with it. A large percentage of wastewater can stay on site and be reused without the need for additional treatment. Other wastewater needs to be treated at a professional facility in order to make it safe for use. Additional wastewater should never exist at all due to how hazardous it can be to the environment and the people and animals living in it.
Consider the options below when thinking about your wastewater:
- Tour your local wastewater treatment plant. Even if you are not into science and chemistry, most facilities are very visually interesting simply because of how much water is flowing through them. Some facilities move up to 100 million gallons a day! And, after all, they take care of all of your ‘waste’ which is pretty interesting!
- Reduce the amount of water you put down the drain every day. Think about ways you can use less water at home, work, and school.
- Reuse water for another purpose. For example, you can collect the water used to wash produce and use it for your household plants or outdoor garden.
- Think about what you are putting down the drain. Avoid flushing medicines, chemicals, or other unnatural liquids or solids down the drain. Most of these items go untreated through the sewer systems and end up causing ecological harm to our lakes, rivers and streams. And remember, ‘FLUSHABLE WIPES’ are NOT FLUSHABLE. Only poo, paper, and pee should go down the toilet!
- Use rain barrels to capture rainwater and use it for watering your lawn/garden. You can even save money on your sewer bill in some cities.
- Attend the World Water Day 2017 event nearest you.