Water covers three-quarters of our Earth’s surface, the freshwater that so much of life depends upon only makes up 1% of this water. About 1,500 billion litres of water is used every day on Earth, generatng a lot of wastewater. At present rates of consumption, 2 out of every 3 people will live in water stressed conditions in less than 7 years.
The availability of safe and sufficient water supplies is inextricably linked to how dirty water is managed. Increased amounts of wastewater, combined with agricultural runoff and industrial discharge, have degraded water quality and contaminated water resources around the world.
Globally, 80% of wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused, contributing to a situation where around 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water is dirty and contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.
Far from being something to discard or ignore, wastewater will play a major role in meeting the growing water demand in rapidly expanding cities, enhancing energy production and industrial development, and supporting sustainable agriculture. Good water quality is essential to human health, social and economic development, and the ecosystem. However, as populations grow and natural environments become degraded, ensuring that there are safe and sufficient water supplies for everyone is becoming increasingly challenging.
A major part of the solution is to produce less pollution and improve the way we manage dirty water. A more circular economy and therefore more sustainable economy requires us to value wastewater for its potential, rather than discard or ignore it. More than just an alternative source of water, safe wastewater management could help protect our ecosystems and give us energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials.