The Environmental Impact of On-Site Wastewater Treatment in Brazil

  • 20/07/2023
  • 1 min reading time
wastewater treatment paper
Photo: Pixabay (u_nnjglrk13q)

Pere Fullana, Director of the ESCI-UPF’s UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change, has contributed to the article published in Science of the Total Environment Journal that explores the environmental assessment of on-site source-separated wastewater treatment and reuse systems in Brazil.

When it comes to improving public health and environmental sustainability, investing in innovative and sustainable sanitation solutions is non-negotiable. This concept rings particularly true in Brazil’s rural and peri-urban areas, where access to adequate wastewater treatment (WWT) facilities remains challenging.

The article published in Science of the Total Environment (STOTEN) Journal explores the need for sustainable sanitation solutions in Brazil’s rural and peri-urban areas, focusing on a comprehensive study comparing traditional «end-of-pipe» wastewater treatment (WWT) systems to resource recovery-oriented systems through a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) lens.

Worldwide, many communities lack access to adequate sanitation, which becomes more critical in light of population growth, urbanization, and water scarcity. Traditional WWT systems, like septic tanks, do not meet the growing need for sustainable, resource-efficient alternatives.

The study utilized LCA, a powerful method to evaluate environmental impacts, comparing different WWT systems ranging from direct wastewater discharge to complex systems that recover water, nutrients, and organic matter. The results highlighted the environmental superiority of systems like evapotranspiration tanks (TEvap), composting toilets, and modified constructed wetlands (EvaTAC) over conventional systems.

TEvap, a system used for blackwater treatment at a household level, reduces water volume through evapotranspiration, leaving nutrients to be integrated into plant biomass. Similarly, EvaTAC, designed for greywater treatment, requires low operation and maintenance.

The study revealed that resource recovery WWT systems significantly decrease environmental impacts compared to traditional methods. These methods were also economically advantageous, reducing the extraction and consumption of valuable resources like potable water and synthetic fertilizer.

In conclusion, the study underscores the urgent necessity to transition from basic pollution control to utilizing the potential co-products of on-site WWT systems. This approach could transform rural and peri-urban sanitation in Brazil and beyond by improving environmental outcomes and resource recovery. Sustainable sanitation is not just about treating wastewater but also valuing and reclaiming what we usually regard as waste. A revolution in our approach to sanitation by adopting resource-oriented solutions is overdue.

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