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

10.4.6 Wastewater and sludge treatment

There are many available technologies for wastewater management, collection, treatment, re-use and disposal, ranging from natural purification processes to energy-intensive advanced technologies. Although decision-making tools are available that include environmental trade-offs and costs (Ho, 2000), systematic global studies of GHG-reduction potentials and costs for wastewater are still needed. When efficiently applied, wastewater transport and treatment technologies reduce or eliminate GHG generation and emissions; in addition, wastewater management promotes water conservation by preventing pollution, reducing the volume of pollutants, and requiring a smaller volume of water to be treated. Because the size of treatment systems is primarily governed by the volume of water to be treated rather than the mass loading of nitrogen and other pollutants, smaller volumes mean that smaller treatment plants with lower capital costs can be more extensively deployed. Wastewater collection and transport includes conventional (deep) sewerage and simplified (shallow) sewerage. Deep sewerage in developed countries has high capital and operational costs. Simplified (shallow) sewerage in both developing and developed countries uses smaller-diameter piping and shallower excavations, resulting in lower capital costs (30–50%) than deep systems.

Wastewater treatment removes pollutants using a variety of technologies. Small wastewater treatment systems include pit latrines, composting toilets and septic tanks. Septic tanks are inexpensive and widely used in both developed and developing countries. Improved on-site treatment systems used in developing countries include inverted trench systems and aerated treatment units. More advanced treatment systems include activated sludge treatment, trickling filters, anaerobic or facultative lagoons, anaerobic digestion and constructed wetlands. Depending on scale, many of these systems have been used in both developed and developing countries. Activated sludge treatment is considered the conventional method for large-scale treatment of sewage. In addition, separation of black water and grey water can reduce the overall energy requirements for treatment (UNEP/GPA-UNESCO/IHE, 2004). Pretreatment or limitation of industrial wastes is often necessary to limit excessive pollutant loads to municipal systems, especially when wastewaters are contaminated with heavy metals. Sludges (or biosolids) are the product of most wastewater treatment systems. Options for sludge treatment include stabilization, thickening, dewatering, anaerobic digestion, agricultural re-use, drying and incineration. The use of composted sludge as a soil conditioner in agriculture and horticulture recycles carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus (and other elements essential for plant growth). Heavy metals and some toxic chemicals are difficult to remove from sludge; either the limitation of industrial inputs or wastewater pretreatment is needed for agricultural use of sludges. Lower quality uses for sludge may include mine site rehabilitation, highway landscaping, or landfill cover (including biocovers). Some sludges are landfilled, but this practice may result in increased volatile siloxanes and H2S in the landfill gas. Treated wastewater can either be re-used or discharged, but re-use is the most desirable option for agricultural and horticultural irrigation, fish aquaculture, artificial recharge of aquifers, or industrial applications.