Wastewater, also written as waste water, is any water that has been adversely affected in quality by anthropogenic influence. Wastewater can originate from a combination of domestic, industrial, commercial or agricultural activities, surface runoff or stormwater, and from sewer inflow or infiltration.
- Gardening and agriculture
- Health risks
- European Union
- United States
Municipal wastewater (also called sewage) is usually conveyed in a combined sewer or sanitary sewer, and treated at a wastewater treatment plant. Treated wastewater is discharged into receiving water via an effluent pipe. Wastewaters generated in areas without access to centralized sewer systems rely on on-site wastewater systems. These typically comprise a septic tank, drain field, and optionally an on-site treatment unit. The management of wastewater belongs to the overarching term sanitation, just like the management of human excreta, solid waste and stormwater (drainage).
Sewage is a type of wastewater that comprises domestic wastewater and is therefore contaminated with feces or urine from people's toilets, but the term sewage is also used to mean any type of wastewater. Sewerage is the physical infrastructure, including pipes, pumps, screens, channels etc. used to convey sewage from its origin to the point of eventual treatment or disposal.
There are numerous processes that can be used to clean up wastewaters depending on the type and extent of contamination. Wastewater can be treated in wastewater treatment plants which include physical, chemical and biological treatment processes. Municipal wastewater is treated in sewage treatment plants (which may also be referred to as wastewater treatment plants). Agricultural wastewater may be treated in agricultural wastewater treatment processes, whereas industrial wastewater is treated in industrial wastewater treatment processes.
For municipal wastewater the use of septic tanks and other On-Site Sewage Facilities (OSSF) is widespread in some rural areas, for example serving up to 20 percent of the homes in the U.S.
One type of aerobic treatment system is the activated sludge process, based on the maintenance and recirculation of a complex biomass composed of micro-organisms able to absorb and adsorb the organic matter carried in the wastewater. Anaerobic wastewater treatment processes (UASB, EGSB) are also widely applied in the treatment of industrial wastewaters and biological sludge. Some wastewater may be highly treated and reused as reclaimed water. Constructed wetlands are also being used.
In some urban areas, municipal wastewater is carried separately in sanitary sewers and runoff from streets is carried in storm drains. Access to either of these is typically through a manhole. During high precipitation periods a combined sewer overflow can occur, forcing untreated sewage to flow back into the environment. This can pose a serious threat to public health and the surrounding environment.
Sewage may drain directly into major watersheds with minimal or no treatment but this usually has serious impacts on the quality of an environment and on the health of people. Pathogens can cause a variety of illnesses. Some chemicals pose risks even at very low concentrations and can remain a threat for long periods of time because of bioaccumulation in animal or human tissue.
Wastewater may be pumped underground through an injection well.
Treated wastewater can be reused in industry (for example in cooling towers), in artificial recharge of aquifers, in agriculture and in the rehabilitation of natural ecosystems (for example in Florida's Everglades). In rarer cases it is also used to augment drinking water supplies.
There are several technologies used to treat wastewater for reuse. A combination of these technologies can meet strict treatment standards and make sure that the processed water is hygienically safe, meaning free from bacteria and viruses. The following are some of the typical technologies: Ozonation, ultrafiltration, aerobic treatment (membrane bioreactor), forward osmosis, reverse osmosis, advanced oxidation.
Some water demanding activities do not require high grade water. In this case, wastewater can be reused with little or no treatment. One example of this scenario is in the domestic environment where toilets can be flushed using greywater from baths and showers with little or no treatment.
Gardening and agriculture
There are benefits of using recycled water for irrigation, including the lower cost compared to some other sources and consistency of supply regardless of season, climatic conditions and associated water restrictions. Irrigation with recycled wastewater can also serve to fertilize plants if it contains nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Around 90% of wastewater produced globally remains untreated, causing widespread water pollution, especially in low-income countries. Increasingly, agriculture is using untreated wastewater for irrigation. Cities provide lucrative markets for fresh produce, so are attractive to farmers. However, because agriculture has to compete for increasingly scarce water resources with industry and municipal users, there is often no alternative for farmers but to use water polluted with urban waste directly to water their crops.
There can be significant health hazards related to using untreated wastewater in agriculture. Wastewater from cities can contain a mixture of chemical and biological pollutants. In low-income countries, there are often high levels of pathogens from excreta, while in emerging nations, where industrial development is outpacing environmental regulation, there are increasing risks from inorganic and organic chemicals. The World Health Organization, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), has developed guidelines for safe use of wastewater in 2006. These guidelines advocate a ‘multiple-barrier’ approach to wastewater use, for example by encouraging farmers to adopt various risk-reducing behaviours. These include ceasing irrigation a few days before harvesting to allow pathogens to die off in the sunlight, applying water carefully so it does not contaminate leaves likely to be eaten raw, cleaning vegetables with disinfectant or allowing fecal sludge used in farming to dry before being used as a human manure.
Council Directive 91/271/EEC on Urban Wastewater Treatment was adopted on 21 May 1991, amended by the Commission Directive 98/15/EC. Commission Decision 93/481/EEC defines the information that Member States should provide the Commission on the state of implementation of the Directive.
The Clean Water Act is the primary federal law in the United States governing water pollution.
In the Philippines, Republic Act 9275, otherwise known as the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004, is the governing law on wastewater management. It states that it is the country's policy to protect, preserve and revive the quality of our fresh, brackish and marine waters, for which wastewater management plays a particular role.