Most human activities that use water produce wastewater. As the overall demand for water grows, the quantity of wastewater produced and its overall pollution load are continuously increasing worldwide. In all but the most highly developed countries, the vast majority of wastewater is released directly to the environment without adequate treatment, with detrimental impacts on human health, economic productivity, the quality of ambient freshwater resources, and ecosystems. Although wastewater is a critical component of the water management cycle, water after it has been used is all too often seen as a burden to be disposed of or a nuisance to be ignored. The results of this neglect are now obvious. The immediate impacts, including the degradation of aquatic ecosystems and waterborne illness from contaminated freshwater supplies, have far-reaching implications on the well-being of communities and peoples’ livelihoods. Continued failure to address wastewater as a major social and environmental problem would compromise other efforts towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In the face of ever-growing demand, wastewater is gaining momentum as a reliable alternative source of water, shifting the paradigm of wastewater management from ‘treatment and disposal’ to ‘reuse, recycle and resource recovery’. In this sense, wastewater is no longer seen as a problem in need of a solution, rather it is part of the solution to challenges that societies are facing today. Wastewater can also be a cost-efficient and sustainable source of energy, nutrients, organic matter and other useful by-products. The potential benefits of extracting such resources from wastewater go well beyond human and environmental health, with implications on food and energy security as well as climate change mitigation. In the context of a circular economy, whereby economic development is balanced with the protection of natural resources and environmental sustainability, wastewater represents a widely available and valuable resource. The outlook is undeniably optimistic, provided action is taken now.
WWAP (United Nations World Water Assessment Programme). 2017. The United Nations World Water Development Report 2017. Wastewater: The Untapped Resource. Paris, UNESCO.
- United Nations World Water Assessment Programme