IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

10.6.2 Wastewater management

Although current GHG emissions from wastewater are lower than emissions from waste, it is recognized that there are substantial emissions which are not quantified by current estimates, especially from septic tanks, latrines and uncontrolled discharges in developing countries. Nevertheless, the quantity of wastewater collected and treated is increasing in many countries in order to maintain and improve potable water quality, as well for other public health and environmental protection benefits. Concurrently, GHG emissions from wastewater will decrease relative to future increases in wastewater collection and treatment.

For developing countries, it is a significant challenge to develop and implement innovative, low-cost but effective and sustainable measures to achieve a basic level of improved sanitation (Moe and Reingans, 2006). Historically, sanitation in developed countries has included costly centralized sewerage and wastewater treatment plants, which do not offer appropriate sustainable solutions for either rural areas in developing countries with low population density or unplanned, rapidly growing, peri-urban areas with high population density (Montgomery and Elimelech, 2007). It has been demonstrated that a combination of low-cost technology with concentrated efforts for community acceptance, participation and management can successfully expand sanitation coverage; for example, in India more than one million pit latrines have been built and maintained since 1970 (Lenton et al., 2005). The combination of household water treatment and ‘point-of-use’ low-technology improved sanitation in the form of pit latrines or septic systems has been shown to lower diarrhoeal diseases by >30% (Fewtrell et al., 2005).

Wastewater is also a secondary water resource in countries with water shortages. Future trends in wastewater technology include buildings where black water and grey water are separated, recycling the former for fertilizer and the latter for toilets. In addition, low-water use toilets (3–5 L) and ecological sanitation approaches (including ecological toilets), where nutrients are safely recycled into productive agriculture and the environment, are being used in Mexico, Zimbabwe, China, and Sweden (Esrey et al., 2003). These could also be applied in many developing and developed countries, especially where there are water shortages, irregular water supplies, or where additional measures for conservation of water resources are needed. All of these measures also encourage smaller wastewater treatment plants with reduced nutrient loads and proportionally lower GHG emissions.