In celebrating this week’s environmental activities, the Global Environment Facility funded Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (GEF CReW) Project has chosen to look at wastewater as a resource by educating people on the opportunities for us to connect with nature through improved wastewater management practices. By embracing the possibilities of re-purposing treated wastewater, we can reduce the negative environmental and human health impacts and economic loss of not practising and lobbying for better wastewater management within our countries.
Treated wastewater is made “fit-for-purpose” by being treated to the level required to make it safe for specific purposes. These include providing a reliable supply of potable and non-potable water, enabling the reuse of nutrients as fertilisers for irrigation in agriculture and forestry, generating energy, and enhancing the goods and services provided by our ecosystems. These benefits impact livelihoods, human health, environmental protection and preservation, water, food and energy security and can help us adapt to and mitigate climate change impacts.
While the idea of drinking fully treated wastewater may take some getting used to, people in many parts of the world have been doing it for years out of a need for sustainable sources of potable water. In some parts of Namibia, Southern Africa, where there are arid lands and severe, extended droughts, for almost 50 years wastewater has been reclaimed and treated to its highest level for drinking. Water regenerated in this way is feasible with tremendous sustainable and long-term benefits.
Population growth and increased urbanization augments the amount of wastewater we generate on a global scale. The increased volume of wastewater offers an opportunity to capitalise on such a resource capable of meeting the demands for potable and non-potable supplies of water. Small Island Developing States are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, for example rainfall patterns have become altered and droughts have become more regular thereby limiting the water supply in many of these countries. In the Caribbean, approximately 50% of the populace works in the agricultural sector which means there is a heavy reliance on water for food production. During dry periods, farmers must therefore find methods of irrigation beyond a dependence on rainwater. Partially treated wastewater serves as an alternative for irrigating crops whilst replenishing the soil with nitrogen and phosphorous which are vital in food production.
In Florida, USA, tonnes of fertiliser have been extracted by combining waste and waste-activated sludge from wastewater which is then used in revitalising and nourishing farm land and to aid in gardening and landscaping. This method has even generated over 5.4 megawatts of energy to power homes and businesses including the famous Walt Disney World Resort.
Farmers, who rely on the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides to ensure crop productivity, could consider the reuse of partially treated wastewater. This would reduce a reliance on chemical fertilisers, which are bad for human health and eventually flow into our waterways causing further pollution, whilst promoting more organic food production.
How many times have you heard someone say, “We are what we eat”? Our food choices impact our health and our risk of contracting diseases from unsafe food is increased if we eat food from a contaminated source like fish from polluted waters. If wastewater treatment is given equal attention as water supply, we will have better treated outflows of wastewater into our waterways. Additionally, we would be able to preserve our important marine ecosystems and aquatic life.
In some parts of the Caribbean, even at the household level efforts are increasingly being made to partially treat wastewater and improve ecosystem services through the construction of wetlands for greywater outflow. These help dwellers to minimise their efforts in watering their lawns, enhance their green spaces, improve their soil quality, reduce soil erosion caused by poor soil composition, and ultimately people enjoy more vibrant gardens in addition to improving the quality of effluent which eventually reaches waterways and the sea.
The United Nations Environment encourages us to connect with nature; so why not start by appreciating the resourcefulness of wastewater and pledging to look for ways to give our wastewater new purpose!
By Chrishane Williams
Global Environment Facility funded Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (GEF CReW) Project
United Nations (UN) Environment Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP)
For more information contact:
Cartagena Convention Secretariat
14-20 Port Royal Street, Kingston,
Tel. # 1 876 922 9267, 68, 69
Fax # 1 876 922 9292
 Rothenborg, M. and Zoffmann, M. Wastewater Is A Resource Too. http://www.ramboll.com/megatrend/feature-articles/wastewater-is-a-resource-too