World Water Day 2017 – Wastewater

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World Water Day 2017 - Wastewater

In December 1992, the UN General Assembly declared March 22nd as World Water Day, which focuses attention on the importance of freshwater and the sustainable management of freshwater resources. It was in 1993 that the first World Water Day was held; coordinated by UN Water in collaboration with governments and partners.

United Nations Water is the inter-agency coordination mechanism for all freshwater related issues, including sanitation. UN Water’s work covers all aspects of freshwater, which includes surface and groundwater resources, and the interface between freshwater and seawater. UN Water aims to improve the cooperation between relevant governing bodies and development organizations.

Each year on 22nd March, events are organized to raise the awareness of just how important water is within the environment, agriculture, health and trade, and it’s a day to take action to help tackle the water crisis.

Today, there’s still over a staggering 663 million people living without a safe water supply close to their home, which means millions have to cope with the health impact of using contaminated water, and hours upon hours are spent walking or queuing in order to obtain clean water.

Launched in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals include a target to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to safe water by the year 2030, making water the main issue in the fight to end extreme poverty.

Each World Water Day has a different theme – in 2015, it was ‘Water and Sustainable Development’, followed by ‘Water and Jobs’ in 2016, with 2017’s theme focusing on ‘Wastewater’.

Why wastewater?

Did you know that the majority of wastewater from our homes, cities, industry and agriculture flows back to nature without being treated or reused? As you can imagine, this has a negative impact on the environment, and valuable nutrients and other recoverable materials are lost.

So, instead of wasting wastewater, we need to be reducing and reusing it in our homes, by using graywater on our gardens for example. In the city, we can treat and reuse wastewater for green spaces, and in industry and agriculture, we can treat and recycle wastewater for things such as cooling systems and irrigation.

By raising awareness of this important issue, you can help make the water cycle work better for all, and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6 target to halve the amount of untreated wastewater, and increase water recycling and safe reuse.

polluted water
polluted water

Why wastewater?

Did you know that the majority of wastewater from our homes, cities, industry and agriculture flows back to nature without being treated or reused? As you can imagine, this has a negative impact on the environment, and valuable nutrients and other recoverable materials are lost.

So, instead of wasting wastewater, we need to be reducing and reusing it in our homes, by using graywater on our gardens for example. In the city, we can treat and reuse wastewater for green spaces, and in industry and agriculture, we can treat and recycle wastewater for things such as cooling systems and irrigation.

By raising awareness of this important issue, you can help make the water cycle work better for all, and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6 target to halve the amount of untreated wastewater, and increase water recycling and safe reuse.

So we created this wastewater infographic, in five languages and shared it around the world…

The wastewater cycle explained

Wastewater infographic - World Water Day 2017

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Water terminology explained

Blackwaterheavily polluted waste water and waste water from the toilet.

Graywater: lightly polluted waste water from the bathtub, shower, sink, washing machine and other kitchen appliances.

Greenwater: collected rainwater.

Bluewater: refers to the water in freshwater lakes, rivers and aquifers.

water down drain

Where does our water come from?

The water that flows into our homes each time we turn the shower on or wash the dishes, comes from underground sources, also known as groundwater. It can also come from rivers, lakes and reservoirs – this is known as surface water. Each drop of water we use has been extracted or removed from these water supplies and transported into our homes for use in the bathroom, kitchen and garden. Once the used water leaves our homes, it is then called wastewater.

Where does wastewater from our homes go?

Every time water goes down the drain or into the sewer, we contribute to the amount of wastewater that needs to be treated. This wastewater either goes into a septic tank where it seeps into the ground, or it goes to a sewage treatment plant through the sewer system. Depending on the type of water that comes into the plant and the water quality requirements of the water that leaves the plant, different treatments are used.

The first stage of water treatment is to let the solid particles settle on the bottom of the holding tank, and to filter the water through sand. Filters are specially designed to screen out large particles, and a minimum amount of chlorine is added to kill dangerous bacteria and micro-organisms.

Some systems use advanced methods to remove organics, nitrogen and phosphorus. A membrane tank removes bacteria and suspends solids, while ultraviolet disinfection kills viruses. Aeration is also needed to raise the oxygen level if the treated and cleansed wastewater is dumped into rivers where there’s fish.

water down drain

Where does our water come from?

The water that flows into our homes each time we turn the shower on or wash the dishes, comes from underground sources, also known as groundwater. It can also come from rivers, lakes and reservoirs – this is known as surface water. Each drop of water we use has been extracted or removed from these water supplies and transported into our homes for use in the bathroom, kitchen and garden. Once the used water leaves our homes, it is then called wastewater.

Where does wastewater from our homes go?

Every time water goes down the drain or into the sewer, we contribute to the amount of wastewater that needs to be treated. This wastewater either goes into a septic tank where it seeps into the ground, or it goes to a sewage treatment plant through the sewer system. Depending on the type of water that comes into the plant and the water quality requirements of the water that leaves the plant, different treatments are used.

The first stage of water treatment is to let the solid particles settle on the bottom of the holding tank, and to filter the water through sand. Filters are specially designed to screen out large particles, and a minimum amount of chlorine is added to kill dangerous bacteria and micro-organisms.

Some systems use advanced methods to remove organics, nitrogen and phosphorus. A membrane tank removes bacteria and suspends solids, while ultraviolet disinfection kills viruses. Aeration is also needed to raise the oxygen level if the treated and cleansed wastewater is dumped into rivers where there’s fish.

How to reuse water around your home

From saving pasta water to fitting a rain barrel, there are plenty of ways in which you can recycle water around your home. Here’s a few top tips:

  • Next time you’re waiting for the shower to reach a comfortable temperature, place a bucket under the shower head until you are ready to step in – you’ll be surprised at how much water collects.
  • Don’t pour the water that you’ve used to cook pasta down the drain. Instead, collect the water in a separate pot, and once it’s cooled, you can then use it to water your garden or house plants. Make sure the water is unsalted, otherwise it could kill plants and wildlife.
  • Rather than use water out of the faucet to water plants during the dry summer months, collect rainwater in a rain barrel and use this stored water instead.
  • Create a rain garden and take advantage of the land’s natural water run-off to nourish plants. A rain garden is made so that it reuses any water that would otherwise drain away into the sewage system.
  • Collect the water that you’ve used to wash fruit and vegetables, and reuse it on your garden.
  • The water that goes down the drain when you wash your hands or do the laundry is known as graywater. It’s water that doesn’t contain sewage. To ensure this water doesn’t go to waste, install a graywater system, which diverts this water. You could for example divert the water from your shower drain so that it’s used for flushing the toilet. This kind of system can be complicated, so make sure to do your research first.
  • Don’t waste the water that runs out of the drainage holes from your potted plants. Place any plants in a deep tray to collect this water, which you can then use to water smaller plants.
  • Instead of pouring that almost empty glass of water down the drain because it’s been sat there too long, use it to water plants so it’s not wasted.

Reusing wastewater - the benefits

There are many benefits to using wastewater as a resource rather than a waste product, these include:

  • Reduced water bills
  • Fewer water resources are used
  • You can irrigate the garden during a drought or water restrictions
  • Reduced pollution going into waterways
  • Helps to save money on new infrastructure for water supplies and wastewater treatment
  • Reduces the demand on infrastructure for sewage transport, treatment and disposal

How to improve wastewater quality

Did you know that the average household stores around 10 gallons of hazardous waste that’s stored under kitchen sinks, as well as in bathrooms, garages and workshops in the form of cleaning products, disinfectants, batteries, paints, solvents and pesticides, plus many other chemicals?

The only way to improve the quality of wastewater is to reduce the amount of toxins and chemicals used around your home, and in industry and agriculture. So, be aware of the chemicals in your home and try to use safer alternatives. Here’s a few examples.

  • Reduce the amount of bleach you use and instead use Borax or non-chlorine bleach.
  • Some detergents contain large amounts of phosphates, which causes algal blooms that are harmful to marine life in the bodies of water that receive wastewater. Use non-phosphate detergents instead, and for dishwashers, use a mix of 50% washing soda and 50% Borax.
  • Drain cleaners are very toxic too. A good alternative is to use ½ cup of baking soda followed by ¼ cup of vinegar, and then cover and flush with boiling water.
  • For general cleaning, try using ½ cup of Borax dissolved in 1 gallon of warm water. Use half a lemon dipped in Borax for tougher stains.
  • Vinegar and warm water provides a safe and effective way to clean glass instead of using a chemical cleaner.
  • Avoid using cosmetics and cleaning products that contain microbeads. These small pieces of plastic build up in the ocean harming marine life.
world water day 2017

How to improve wastewater quality

Did you know that the average household stores around 10 gallons of hazardous waste that’s stored under kitchen sinks, as well as in bathrooms, garages and workshops in the form of cleaning products, disinfectants, batteries, paints, solvents and pesticides, plus many other chemicals?

The only way to improve the quality of wastewater is to reduce the amount of toxins and chemicals used around your home, and in industry and agriculture. So, be aware of the chemicals in your home and try to use safer alternatives. Here’s a few examples.

  • Reduce the amount of bleach you use and instead use Borax or non-chlorine bleach.
  • Some detergents contain large amounts of phosphates, which causes algal blooms that are harmful to marine life in the bodies of water that receive wastewater. Use non-phosphate detergents instead, and for dishwashers, use a mix of 50% washing soda and 50% Borax.
  • Drain cleaners are very toxic too. A good alternative is to use ½ cup of baking soda followed by ¼ cup of vinegar, and then cover and flush with boiling water.
  • For general cleaning, try using ½ cup of Borax dissolved in 1 gallon of warm water. Use half a lemon dipped in Borax for tougher stains.
  • Vinegar and warm water provides a safe and effective way to clean glass instead of using a chemical cleaner.
  • Avoid using cosmetics and cleaning products that contain microbeads. These small pieces of plastic build up in the ocean harming marine life.
world water day 2017
micro-beads

How are plastic microbeads harmful to marine life?

Microbeads are the little bits of plastic that are sometimes added to cosmetic and cleaning products to provide an abrasive effect. For example, in shower gels, microbeads, usually less than 5mm in size, are designed to remove dry cells from the skin’s surface. In fact, just one shower can result in 100,000 microbeads entering the ocean.

Microbeads are also found in face washes and toothpastes. These pieces are small enough to pass through water filtration plants, which means they eventually end up in lakes, rivers and oceans. Fish and other marine life can easily ingest microbeads, and the plastic particles can get stuck in their stomachs, where they can be toxic in big quantities.

But it can be tricky knowing which products contain microbeads, as not all are listed in the ingredients list. Instead, it’s the petrochemical plastics that go into them which are listed, such as polyethylene, polypropylene and polymethylmethacrylate. Nylon may also be on the list, as well as the abbreviations: PET, PTFE and PMMA.

Research by US scientists estimated that more than 8 trillion microbeads enter US aquatic habitats each day, and they suggest a complete ban would be best way to help protect water quality and wildlife.

The good news is that the US will ban the production of personal care products and cosmetics containing microbeads from July 2017. They will also ban the sales of cosmetics containing microbeads July 2018, and over the counter drugs by July 2019.

World Water Day - the Germany and Kenya partnership

For over 50 years, Germany has been involved in the water and sanitation sector in Kenya, and is proud to be a part of the Kenyan World Water Day celebrations. By cooperating with the Water Services Trust Fund, access to water has been improved for 1.6 million people in deprived urban areas, and 150,000 people have better access to sanitation. More than 400,000 people now have improved access to water in six cities across Kenya.

Over the next two years, Germany will spend 250 million euros in development cooperation with Kenya, and water is one of the main sectors that would greatly benefit from this funding. Kenya is a water-scarce country, and continued urbanization is leading to a greater demand, on top of this, the country’s economic growth is also raising the demand for industrial water.

World Water Day - the Germany and Kenya partnership

For over 50 years, Germany has been involved in the water and sanitation sector in Kenya, and is proud to be a part of the Kenyan World Water Day celebrations. By cooperating with the Water Services Trust Fund, access to water has been improved for 1.6 million people in deprived urban areas, and 150,000 people have better access to sanitation. More than 400,000 people now have improved access to water in six cities across Kenya.

Over the next two years, Germany will spend 250 million euros in development cooperation with Kenya, and water is one of the main sectors that would greatly benefit from this funding. Kenya is a water-scarce country, and continued urbanization is leading to a greater demand, on top of this, the country’s economic growth is also raising the demand for industrial water.

irrigation

How wastewater is reused around the globe

How wastewater gets used varies country to country, and climate plays an important role. For example, in southern Europe, reclaimed wastewater accounts for 44% of agricultural irrigation, while 37% is used for urban and environmental applications. In northern Europe, 51% accounts for environmental use.

Spain – 71% of wastewater is used for irrigation, 17% for environmental uses, 7% for recreation, 4% in urban reuse, and less than 1% for industrial purposes.

Singapore – as part of an initiative that began back in 1998, treated used water is bottled and distributed as a product branded NeWater.

USA – reclaimed water has been indirectly used as drinking water for over 20 years in California, Arizona and North Virginia, where it’s used to replenish underground aquifers and surface reservoirs. In New York City, almost a billion gallons of water is used each day – see more facts about New York’s water usage.

Abu Dhabi – approximately 550,000 cubic meters of wastewater is generated each day and treated in 20 wastewater treatment plants. Almost all of this wastewater is treated, and the majority is used to keep the city green. Abu Dhabi’s environmental department said the future would be very challenging unless action was taken to reduce water consumption, so the government created a media campaign to encourage people to save water. They distributed water saving toilets and shower heads free of charge, and are also in the process of expanding reclaimed water use.

irrigation

How wastewater is reused around the globe

How wastewater gets used varies country to country, and climate plays an important role. For example, in southern Europe, reclaimed wastewater accounts for 44% of agricultural irrigation, while 37% is used for urban and environmental applications. In northern Europe, 51% accounts for environmental use.

Spain – 71% of wastewater is used for irrigation, 17% for environmental uses, 7% for recreation, 4% in urban reuse, and less than 1% for industrial purposes.

Singapore – as part of an initiative that began back in 1998, treated used water is bottled and distributed as a product branded NeWater.

USA – reclaimed water has been indirectly used as drinking water for over 20 years in California, Arizona and North Virginia, where it’s used to replenish underground aquifers and surface reservoirs. In New York City, almost a billion gallons of water is used each day – see more facts about New York’s water usage.

Abu Dhabi – approximately 550,000 cubic meters of wastewater is generated each day and treated in 20 wastewater treatment plants. Almost all of this wastewater is treated, and the majority is used to keep the city green. Abu Dhabi’s environmental department said the future would be very challenging unless action was taken to reduce water consumption, so the government created a media campaign to encourage people to save water. They distributed water saving toilets and shower heads free of charge, and are also in the process of expanding reclaimed water use.

10 water saving tips

From fitting a low flow shower head to fixing a dripping faucet, there are many ways to reduce water usage around your home. Here’s some top water saving tips:

  • Time your shower to keep it under 5 minutes, and you’ll save an impressive 1,000 gallons a month
  • Turn the faucet off when brushing your teeth and save up to 4 gallons a minute. That’s up to 200 gallons a week for a family of four
  • Whether you’re experienced at DIY or need to a hire a plumber, it’s important to fix any leaky faucets as soon as possible. Fixing a leaky faucet can save 140 gallons a week
  • Fitting water efficient fixtures provides a simple yet effective way to save water, so fit an aerator to your faucet, upgrade to a water saving dual flush toilet and choose a low flow shower head
  • Don’t run the dishwasher or washing machine until it’s full. Half-loads soon add up to gallons of water that only goes to waste
  • Keep an eye on your water bills, as a sudden spike can indicate a leak, so call in a plumber to check the pipes to save both water and cash
  • Turn the water off when washing your hair and save up to 150 gallons a month
  • When ice cubes are left over from your drink, don’t put them in the sink, instead pour them on a plant
  • Steam your vegetables instead of boiling them, which not only helps to save water but it will retain more nutrients too.
  • Water outdoor plants in the early morning or at the end of the day, which stops water evaporating straight away in the sunlight and heat

Water stress vs water scarcity

Water scarcity affects every continent, and is one of the main problems to be faced by many societies. Water consumption has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and an increasing number of regions are chronically short of water.

Hydrologists typically assess scarcity by looking at the population-water equation. An area is experiencing water stress when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 m3 per person. When annual water supplies drop below 1,000 m3 per person, the population faces water scarcity, and below 500 cubic metres “absolute scarcity”.

Around 1.6 billion people face economic water shortage due to the lack of necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers. Although there’s enough freshwater on the planet for 7 billion people, it’s distributed unevenly, and far too much is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.

Water scarcity: the facts

  • Approximately 700 million people in 43 countries suffer from water scarcity
  • By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute scarcity
  • Due to the existing climate change scenario, almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by the year 2030, which includes 75-250 million people in Africa
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of water stressed countries of any region

World Water Day Events - United States

To celebrate World Water Day 2017, a number of events are being held around the United States – from blessing the waters at Thomas F Regan Memorial City Beach in California to discussions on the state of water in Texas. Find out which events are being held near you on the UN Water events map.

WaterAid America

To show your support for World Water Day, why not go blue in any way you like – dress in blue, paint yourself blue, bake blue cakes, drink blue drinks – it really doesn’t matter how you do it! WaterAid America would love you to get involved, so go #BlueforWater on March 22nd. It’s easy to be a part of World Water Day and make a difference. By helping to raise funds and spreading the word, you can help to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to safe, clean water by 2030.