Pros & Cons Of Water Recycling, Reuse & Reclamation

Water recycling, also referred to as water reclamation or reuse, may have a number of potential benefits.

However, there may be some potential drawbacks too.

In the guide below, we list and explain the potential pros and cons of water recycling.

 

Summary – Potential Pros & Cons Of Water Recycling, Reuse & Reclamation

Firstly, What Is Water Recycling?

We put together a separate guide outlining what water recycling and reuse is, along with other important aspects here.

 

Potential Pros

Different Types Of Water Can Be Recycled

Water Recycling Might Be Considered A Form Of Waste Recycling

Recycled Water Can Be Used For Different End Uses, & Can Go To Different End Recipients

Already Widely Used Around The World

People Already Drinking Treated Wastewater, Or Forms Of Recycled Water

Water Can Be Recycled In High Volumes At Some Plants

Might Be Less Dependent On Rainfall & Climate Than Other Water Sources

May Be A Good Water Source For Some Drier & Hotter Climates

May Be One Way To Sustainably Manage Freshwater As A Resource

May Play A Role In Helping Recharge Or Replenish Underground Aquifers

May Be Part Of A Sustainable Strategy To Manage Water Supplies For Cities

May Help Address Some Specific Global Water Issues

May Help Indirectly Address Other Global Issues

May Give Regions More Control Over Their Water Supply

Some Countries Have ‘Recycled Water’ Or ‘Safe Water’ Regulations Or Legislation, To Ensure Safety & Quality Of Recycled Water

Some Reports Indicate That There Have Been No Human Health Problems To Date, Regarding Recycled Water That Has Been Treated To Standards

May Be More Reliable & Consistent Than Some Other Water Supply Methods

Recycled Water Can Be Supplied Back Into The Water System Directly, Or Indirectly

Future Potential For Waste Water Recycling Might Be Very High

Some Water Experts Support Water Recycling

Water Can Be Recycled At A Central Treatment Plant, Or On-Site

Decentralized Water Recycling Sites Can Save Water, Energy & Money

Recycling Water May Have Several Environmental Benefits

Might Use Less Energy Than Desalination, & Other Water Sources

Cost To Recycle Water May Average Out Over The Long Term

Might Be More Affordable Than Desalination In Some Ways

Some Reports Indicate Water Recycling Costs No More Than Importing Water

Recycling & Reusing Specific Types Of Waste Water For Specific Uses Can Have Their Own Unique Benefits

Waste Water Recycling May Be Able To Work Holistically With Some Other Industries

Some Inland Communities May Benefit From Water Recycling Where Desalination Has Challenges

 

Potential Cons

Cost To Produce Recycled Water Can Be Expensive Compared To Some Other Water Sources

Capital Cost To Set Up & Construct Can Be Very Expensive

Sometimes Has To Be Subsidized & Sold Below Actual Supply Cost

Wastewater Reuse For Businesses Can Have Cost Challenges, & Other Challenges 

Can Need It’s Own Dedicated Infrastructure & Pipe System

Can Carry Some Commercial Risk, & Has Economic Viability Concerns

Not All Recycled Water Can Be Used For Drinking Water, & Other Specific Uses

The Public Can Be Skeptical Of Using Or Consuming Recycled Water

There Can Be Institutional Or Regulatory Barriers In Place In Some Regions For Potable Water

Some Regions May Have Inadequate Regulations On Specific Types Of Water Recycling

Some Developing Countries May Reuse Water In An Unsafe Manner

Some Wastewater Treatment Plants Can’t Remove All The Pollutants In Wastewater, & May Therefore Become A Source Of Water Pollution

There May Be Difficulties During The Operation & Treatment Stage

The Use Of Reclaimed Waste Water Specifically For Irrigation May Have Several Potential Risks

Use Of Reclaimed Waste Water For Irrigation Can Have Risks

The Distance Of Centralized Water Treatment Plants To Farms Can Sometimes Be Too Far

There May Be Some Key Factors That Influence The Usage & Utility Of Water Recycling In The Future

Some Individual Cities Have Experienced Problems With Implementing Water Recycling

 

*Note

The pros and cons listed in this guide are general pros and cons only.

 

Potential Pros Of Water Recycling, Reuse & Reclamation

Different Types Of Wastewater Can Be Recycled

Such as municipal wastewater, industrial wastewater and water from cooling, storm water, agricultural runoff, and more.

 

Water Recycling Might Be Considered A Form Of Waste Recycling

Some of the water types identified above are considered waste products – so, water recycling might be considered a form of waste recycling.

Because it can make use of waste, water recycling may also contribute to a more circular economy.

 

Recycled Water Can Be Used For Different End Uses, & Can Go To Different End Recipients

Examples of end uses might include:

– Drinking water

– Non potable water irrigation (on farms, and at forestries)

– Non potable water for industrial uses (such as washing and cooling in power stations and factories)

– Non potable water for use at home (such as for flushing toilets, other household water uses)

Ground water recharge

– Environmental flows and wetlands

 

Examples of end recipients might include:

– Homes

– Businesses

– Public Services

– Farms

 

Already Widely Used Around The World

One report references a global database of all national and regional waste water treatment plants globally, and indicates there’s currently 58,502 wastewater treatment plants in operation worldwide

 

Some Australian cities for example already use water recycling facilities and technology.

For example:

– … there are currently 14 water recycling plants in Sydney, Australia alone (sydneywater.com.au)

Perth in Western Australia is another example of a city that currently recycles a certain % of it’s waste water.

 

People Already Drinking Treated Wastewater, Or Forms Of Recycled Water 

According to abc.net.au:

[London, and also Adelaide in South Australia, are two examples of places where people are already drinking treated waste water from forms of recycled water]

[And] … countries [and cities] such as Singapore and Namibia, towns in Texas and California [and Perth, are already drinking recycled effluent i.e. treated sewage water]

 

Water Can Be Recycled In High Volumes At Some Plants

For example the St Mary’s Advanced Water Recycling Plant is Sydney, Australia’s largest water recycling project, and produces up to 18 billion litres of very high quality water a year (sydneywater.com.au)

 

Might Be Less Dependent On Rainfall & Climate Than Other Water Sources

Water recycling doesn’t rely mainly on rainfall/precipitation for replenishment like other water sources might.

In this sense, it may be less dependent on rainfall and climate, and less affected by natural events like droughts.

 

May Be A Good Water Source For Some Drier & Hotter Climates

Relating to the point above, drier and hotter climates generally experience less rainfall, and may have issues with evaporation .

Both of these things can impact the renewal of natural sources of water like surface water and ground water.

As long as there is still water to recycle, drier and hotter climates may benefit from water recycling as it isn’t reliant on rainfall or affected by evaporation like these other water sources.

 

May Be One Way To Sustainably Manage Freshwater As A Resource

Recycling and reuse are keys actions in sustainably managing different natural resources.

Fresh water recycling therefore may be one way to more sustainably manage freshwater resources going into the future.

 

May Play A Role In Helping Recharge Or Replenish Underground Aquifers 

Underground aquifers generally have slow recharge rates.

In some places like Perth in Western Australia, they’ve tested the potential of using treated water to recharge/replenish aquifers, by injecting it into these groundwater sources and blending it with the groundwater.

 

May Be Part Of A Sustainable Strategy To Manage Water Supplies For Cities

A few key reasons that water recycling may contribute to a more sustainable strategy to manage water supplies might be:

– It means less water might be withdrawn (proportionally) from other water sources, such as surface water and underground aquifers, and therefore there’s less stress placed on individual water sources from demand

– Water recycling can be one several sources of water (such as surface water, ground water, desalination) that provide fresh water to a region

Additional water sources can therefore diversify a city’s water supply, and therefore make it more resilient from a water security and water risk perspective, especially against a changing climate and natural events like droughts (or variable rainfall)

Cities and towns aren’t reliant on just one type of water source

 

May Help Address Some Specific Global Water Issues

Such as water scarcity and water stress.

 

May Help Indirectly Address Other Global Issues

Growing populations and growing demand for energy and food (both of which require water to produce) are issues to consider in the future.

Water recycling may help in addressing issues similar to these as it can make more fresh water resources available.

 

May Give Regions More Control Over Their Water Supply

If local water is recycled and water recycling plants are set up locally, cities have more control over this part of their water supply, instead of having it controlled externally.

 

Some Countries Have ‘Recycled Water’ Or ‘Safe Water’ Regulations Or Legislation, To Ensure Safety & Quality Of Recycled Water

We list some different examples of water recycling safety regulations and guidelines from different regions around the world in this guide.

 

Some Reports Indicate That There Have Been No Human Health Problems To Date, Regarding Recycled Water That Has Been Treated To Standards

Accordingly to epa.gov: “No documented cases of human health problems due to contact with recycled water that has been treated to standards, criteria, and regulations have been reported [in the US]”

 

May Be More Reliable & Consistent Than Some Other Water Supply Methods

Recycling plants can produce a certain amount of water per day or per year, as long as there is waste water being provided, and there’s an adequate energy supply and financing.

This consistent water production is in comparison to some natural water sources that may be more variable and unreliable, because they rely on variable rainfall.

 

Recycled Water Can Be Supplied Back Into The Water System Directly, Or Indirectly

Directing recycled water back into the water system can happen via direct injection back into water pipes or water sources

It may also happen through a scheme such as managed aquifer recharge where natural processes filter and process water before re-use.

Although awa.asn.au notes that directly reusing recycled water might be better: ‘… direct potable reuse may have more benefits’

 

Future Potential For Waste Water Recycling Might Be Very High

One stat that helps illustrate this might be:

Globally, about 80% of waste water gets discharged back into the environment without being treated.

 

Perth in particular has a large amount of water that goes into the ocean, and some reports indicate that any type of water (waste water, storm water, etc) can be treated.

 

Some Water Experts Support Water Recycling

[In a 2014 report,] water sector professionals were largely supportive of water recycling [for both potable and non potable water uses] (awa.asn.au).

 

One example of a city where experts think water recycling would be a beneficial long term water option is Perth, Australia.

 

Water Can Be Recycled At A Central Treatment Plant, Or On-Site

Most water is collected and sent to a main water recycling plant.

But, water can also be recycled on-site where it originally become waste water, like for example at an industrial facility that uses cooling processes.

 

Decentralized Water Recycling Sites Can Save Water, Energy & Money

According to epa.gov: “The use of gray water at decentralized sites … for landscape irrigation and toilet flushing reduces the amount of potable water distributed to these sites, the amount of fertilizer needed, and the amount of wastewater generated, transported, and treated at wastewater treatment facilities. In other words, water reuse saves water, energy, and money.”

 

Recycling Water May Have Several Environmental Benefits

Such as decreasing diversion of water from ecosystems, decreasing waste water discharge and water pollution, and bettering the health of wetlands and habitats that need the water (epa.gov)

 

It’s worth pointing out that waste water recycling either of waste water before it’s discharged (or re-used), or after it’s discharged, may help reduce water pollution.

 

Might Use Less Energy Than Desalination, & Other Water Sources

– Desalination

Recycling waste and gray water requires far less energy than treating salt water using a desalination system (epa.gov)

 

– Other Water Sources

Although it requires additional energy to treat wastewater for recycling, the amount of energy required to treat and/or transport other sources of water is generally much greater (epa.gov)

 

Cost To Recycle Water May Average Out Over The Long Term

Over longer time periods, the cost of recycling water might average out and be more cost effective.

Additionally, the benefits to the economy, environment, water supplies, and so on, should be considered as intangible things that offset some of the cost (some of these things may be priceless).

But, the cost to recycle water can be dependent on different variables.

 

Might Be More Affordable Than Desalination In Some Ways

From nas-sites.org: “Generally, water reuse is … less expensive than seawater desalination”

 

According to mercurynews.com via seametrics.com “Recycled water costs about $1,100 an acre-foot to produce, about half the cost of desalinating ocean water”

 

More costs of water reuse vs water desalination and other water production methods can be found here.

 

Some Reports Indicate Water Recycling Costs No More Than Importing Water

According to kbps.org: “… the future cost of recycled and imported water would be about the same, around $1,000 per acre foot”

 

Recycling & Reusing Specific Types Of Waste Water For Specific Uses Can Have Their Own Unique Benefits

One example might be using wastewater for agricultural irrigation.

 

From wikipedia.org:

… reclaimed water [and wastewater] used for agricultural irrigation may already contain certain nitrogen and phosphorus levels, and may have in built fertilizing properties [and may] improve production yields, reduce the ecological footprint and promote socioeconomic benefits

 

Waste Water Recycling May Be Able To Work Holistically With Some Other Industries

As one potential example …

Sewage treatment plants may be able to form partnerships with biofuel producers and growers, and supply wastewater to producers of algae and other biofuel crops. The wastewater may contain nutrients and act as a fertilizer

This may also have the added benefit of reducing pumping and treatment costs according to some reports

 

As another potential example …

Some reports indicate that agricultural runoff might be able to be treated for water pollution or contamination at wastewater treatment plants, and then potentially be re-used in agriculture, or used for something else

 

Some reports even consider whether wastewater can be supplied to power plants for cooling systems.

 

Some Inland Communities May Benefit From Water Recycling Where Desalination Has Challenges

… technology like desalination isn’t suitable for [some] particular inland [locations] due to cost, and logistics (abc.net.au)

 

Some of these locations might be able to set up water recycling facilities instead.

 

Potential Cons Of Water Recycling, Reuse & Reclamation

Cost To Produce Recycled Water Can Be Expensive Compared To Some Other Water Sources

Water recycling can be more expensive than other water sources like surface water and ground water extraction and use.

 

Both potable and nonpotable water reuse can be the most expensive water sources to produce behind seawater desalination in some regions, according to one report.

 

The cost of recycled water may increase when it requires it’s own supply pipes and other infrastructure, as well as when treatment plants are further away from where the water is being supplied.

 

According to epa.gov: “…the treatment of wastewater for reuse and the installation of distribution systems at centralized facilities can be initially expensive compared to such water supply alternatives as imported water, ground water, or the use of gray water onsite from homes”.

 

Capital Cost To Set Up & Construct Can Be Very Expensive

It can cost hundreds of millions or billions of dollars to construction some water recycling plants/facilities.

Costs for water recycling can include construction costs, dedicated infrastructure costs, quality monitoring and identification of contaminants cost, and other costs.

 

For example, in San Diego, “A permanent water recycling plant would cost an estimated $369 million” (kpbs.org).

 

According to abc.net.au: [In 2006/07, a $2.5 billion water scheme was commissioned in Queensland in Australia,] but, water would not be used until dam levels fell to 40 per cent

 

Sometimes Has To Be Subsidized & Sold Below Actual Supply Cost

According to some reports, this is to encourage it’s use in some parts of the world.

 

Wastewater Reuse For Businesses Can Have Cost Challenges, & Other Challenges

Some businesses may find it either economically unfeasible to implement water recycling, or, may simply find it cheaper, more profitable and quicker to dump wastewater (where regulations or authorities allow) rather than treating it and re-using it.

 

sswm.info for example mentions that ‘… the cost of implementing wastewater treatment systems may prohibit wastewater recycling within a business.’

But, they also mention that ‘Between businesses, wastewater reuse potential depends on factors …’, and they list those factors in their report, such as (paraphrased) cost of transport and wastewater quality and volume in their report.

Also paraphrased – knowledge, trust between industries, and willingness to modify current operations both for direct reuse and treat-and-reuse can be barriers as well.

However, they also mention that (paraphrased) if several businesses can share wastewater treatment costs, it reduces overall costs for individual businesses, and it may make reuse more affordable.

 

Can Need It’s Own Dedicated Infrastructure & Pipe System

In places like the US and Australia, purple or lavender marked recycled water pipes, taps and other infrastructure (like storage tanks) are dedicated to recycled water.

This dual piping system keeps recycled water separate to potable water supplies.

This infrastructure costs money, and takes up space.

 

Can Carry Some Commercial Risk, & Has Economic Viability Concerns

Particularly demand risk in some regions (awa.asn.au).

 

There might also be questions over whether some plants can be feasible from an economic perspective, at least in the short term.

 

Not All Recycled Water Can Be Used For Drinking Water, & Other Specific Uses

Sydney Water notes their recycled water can’t be used for drinking, cooking, bathing, filling pools, and a number of other uses (sydneywater.com.au)

 

The Public Can Be Skeptical Of Using Or Consuming Recycled Water

The public’s attitudes towards, and social acceptance of recycled water, can be poor, especially for some types of recycled waste water.

 

There Can Be Institutional Or Regulatory Barriers In Place In Some Regions For Potable Water

In terms of institutional barriers …

 

Water management authorities not making water recycling a priority compared to other water supply options

 

In terms of regulatory barriers …

 

According to abc.net.au: ‘In Australia for example [there needs to be a] removal of policy barriers to potable reuse’

 

From ge.com: ‘Strict water regulations can impose barriers on treating, re-using and recycling waste and grey water’

 

Some Regions May Have Inadequate Regulations On Specific Types Of Water Recycling

According to epa.gov “Most states [in the US] have regulations governing water quality for water recycling of reclaimed water from centralized treatment facilities, but only about 30 of the 50 states have regulations pertaining to water recycling of gray water”

 

So, different regions within a specific country may differing regulations on water recycling of different kinds.

 

Some Developing Countries May Reuse Water In An Unsafe Manner

Developing countries can use untreated waste water for irrigation, which can become a public health and safety hazard in some instances.

This water can also further contaminate soil and decrease soil health.

 

Some Wastewater Treatment Plants Can’t Remove All The Pollutants In Wastewater, & May Therefore Become A Source Of Water Pollution

waternewseurope.com mentions (paraphrased) that not all pollutants can be remove from wastewater at wastewater treatment plants, and therefore these treatment plants can become a source of pollution for the surface water sources they discharge treated water into

 

There May Be Other Difficulties During The Operation & Treatment Stage

From wikipedia.org: “Difficulties in contaminant identification may include the separation of inorganic and organic pollutants, microorganisms, Colloids, and others”

 

The Use Of Reclaimed Waste Water Specifically For Irrigation May Have Several Potential Risks

Including contamination of the food chain, soil salinization and accumulation of chemicals + other risks (wikipedia.org)

 

The Distance Of Centralized Water Treatment Plants To Farms Can Sometimes Be Too Far

The distance from farms to centralized treatment plants can be too great … but, on site treatment can solve this eventually (fluencecorp.com)

 

There May Be Some Key Factors That Influence The Usage & Utility Of Water Recycling In The Future

“… such as economic considerations, potential uses for reclaimed water, the stringency of wastewater discharge requirements and public policies for conservation and protection” (fluencecorp.com)

 

Some Individual Cities Have Experienced Problems With Implementing Water Recycling 

Referencing a report by waterstories.co.za, we mention in a separate guide how Cape Town may have encountered problems implementing water recycling, with waste water containing chemicals.

 

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/biggest-global-fresh-water-issues-problems-solutions/

2. https://www.sydneywater.com.au/SW/education/Wastewater-recycling/Water-recycling/index.htm

3. http://www.awa.asn.au/AWA_MBRR/Publications/Fact_Sheets/Water_Recycling_Fact_Sheet/AWA_MBRR/Publications/Fact_Sheets/Water_Recycling_Fact_Sheet.aspx?hkey=54c6e74b-0985-4d34-8422-fc3f7523aa1d

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/water-pollution-causes-sources-examples-effects-prevention-solutions/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/water-scarcity-case-study-perth-western-australia-what-the-world-can-learn-from-perths-water-scarcity-problems-solutions/

6. https://www3.epa.gov/region9/water/recycling/#whatis

7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reclaimed_water

8. http://nas-sites.org/waterreuse/what-is-water-reuse/types-of-water-reuse/

9. https://www.fluencecorp.com/where-is-the-most-water-reuse-taking-place/

10. https://www.kpbs.org/news/2013/mar/20/final-report-says-recycling-water-not-so-expensive/

11. https://www.seametrics.com/blog/water-recycling-facts/

12. http://nas-sites.org/waterreuse/cost-of-water-reuse-projects/

13. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-19/drinking-recycled-water/9546900

14. https://theconversation.com/more-of-us-are-drinking-recycled-sewage-water-than-most-people-realise-92420

15. https://sswm.info/water-nutrient-cycle/water-use/hardwares/optimisation-water-use-industries/wastewater-reuse-in-industry

16. https://www.ge.com/reports/global-thirst-water-use-industry/

17. https://www.waternewseurope.com/global-database-of-wwtps-and-their-effluents/

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