Wastewater Treatment Is Crucial to Sustaining Our Modern Lifestyle
Up until the time humans began to produce significant quantities of waste, artificial treatment of water was largely unnecessary, as Mother Nature’s own recycling mechanism, which consisted of evaporation, precipitation, and percolation, was more than adequate. Today, the world population stands at more than 7 billion and climbing, while a parallel growth in industrialisation has seen the unprecedented discharge of all forms of contamination released into the air, the soil, and our rivers and seas. Without the help of manmade technology to support the natural recycling process, civilisation as we know it would no longer be sustainable.
There are, of course, regions of the world in which the scarcity of this natural resource and the lack of sanitary measures are already taking their toll on the lives of their citizens. Wastewater treatment is all that stands between those in the more developed regions of the planet and a similar fate. In South Africa, as in many countries, the responsibility for providing a supply of potable water lies with local municipalities. Regardless of who is responsible, the methods used are essentially similar and have been developed over many years.
While it is known that aqueducts provided an efficient delivery mechanism and sanitary facilities such as flushable toilets and sewers were already a feature of ancient Rome, the supply was plentiful and so they had little need for recycling. Despite Roman insight, water-borne diseases became the scourge of Europe during the Middle Ages and beyond and only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were the first wastewater-treatment plants established, mainly in the UK and USA. Instead of discharging household sewage directly into the sea or nearby rivers, these plants first treated household effluent with a succession of physical, biological, and chemical processes to remove the contaminants present. In the early 1900s, these countries introduced modified sewage systems to separate rainwater from household effluents.
As the role of industry in contributing to the contamination of the environment became more apparent, governments found it necessary to introduce legislation to control the quality of effluent these industries were free to discharge into the surrounding area. With these tough new rules to abide by, municipalities were soon joined by factories in being required to provide a suitable form of wastewater treatment. This left industries with two possible options. First, they could simply choose to discharge the treated effluent into the environment as usual, but with the knowledge that it would no longer pose a threat. Alternatively, it could be reused to feed a boiler used in one of a factory’s routine processes. The latter option can not only reduce a company’s operating costs, but it can also help to reduce some of the mounting pressure on the nation’s water reserves.
Water purification is now essential but so too is water conservation. Like factories that reuse industrial effluent, other users must adopt similar policies if we hope to maintain the current rate of consumption. Agriculture is the greatest consumer and installing wastewater-treatment plants on farms in order to reuse the product of dams, rainwater barrels, and boreholes over and over again has the potential to make a huge contribution to a more sustainable future. Every drop saved can, at least, be used to irrigate crops, clean farm machinery, and for watering game animals, while additional processing could even render it pure enough for human consumption.
It is often said that charity begins at home and so too should water conservation. For example, anyone with a bit of spare outdoor space could install a system to collect and utilise rainwater. More significantly, however, there are also wastewater treatment plants designed for household use. Not only can these be used to clean up the harvested rainwater if required but they can also be connected to the household plumbing system for the collection and treatment of domestic effluent from sinks, baths, showers, and washing machines – and even that from toilets. When treated in this fashion, the product is colourless and odourless and suitable for watering the lawn; cleaning windows, driveways, and vehicles; and reducing the monthly water bills quite substantially. If required, additional purification can produce potable water of a quality comparable with the municipal supply.
Join the others concerned about conservation and consult the wastewater-treatment experts at WaterIcon.