Throughout the world, most wastewater is neither collected nor subjected to any treatment. The numbers become chilling: 80% of the "sewage" is returned to the environment directly, without having been processed. This is due, even today, to the fact that in many cases they are seen as a “burden” that must be discarded. A perception that is far from reality: wastewater is a valuable resource from which various elements, such as, clean water, energy and nutrients can be recovered.
 
This was highlighted by the World Bank in the report Wastewater: From Waste to Resource, published on the World Water Day, celebrated on March 22. Although the initiative of this report focuses on the Latin American and Caribbean region (where only 30% to 40% of the wastewater collected is treated), the solutions it studies and the conclusions drawn from it can be applied to a global level. And it is that 36% of the world population live in regions where water is a scarce commodity. For this reason, the Treatment of Wastewater for reuse is presented as "part of the solution to the problems of water scarcity and contamination", as pointed out by the global director of the Global Water Practice of the World Bank, Jennifer Sara, following the report.
 

The double value of Water Treatment

The organization's report analyzes different experiences, such as that carried out at a power plant in Mexico in which the use of treated wastewater instead of groundwater resulted in a saving of 33% of costs of water. Another of the exposed examples is carried out by the wastewater treatment plant of La Farfana (Santiago de Chile), in which an investment of 2.7 million dollars was made to install the necessary infrastructure and which allowed the operator of the plant to sell the biogas produced, with a net annual profit of $ 1 million.
 
Through these and other cases, the World Bank highlights the double value of wastewater treatment. It shows that, in addition to environmental and health, it can offer economic benefits when reused in different sectors. The key is that - as the document reads - its derived products (nutrients, biogas ...) can be applied to agriculture and used for power generation. At the same time, the additional income obtained from this process can help cover operating and maintenance costs of public water services.
 

The role of governments in change

Ultimately, these practices point to the fundamental principle of the circular economy system, which seeks to minimize waste and maximize resources. The report provides a small sample of what could be achieved if governments at all levels applied the principles of this system to their wastewater problems and, in fact, were urged to take steps to manage wastewater more effectively. smart. In this sense, he recommends that interventions for wastewater management "be included in watershed planning and that this is accompanied by policies, institutions and regulations that promote this paradigm shift." And he adds that wastewater treatment plants "should gradually be reused as resource recovery plants, while at the same time analyzing and supporting innovative and sustainable financial and business models that take advantage of the possible income streams that can be obtained from the recovery of resources from wastewater”.
 
As stated by the author of the report and senior specialist in water resources management at the World Bank, Diego Juan Rodríguez, “in many countries, wastewater policies already include their reuse and resource recovery”, but, as transmitted by that 80% of untreated wastewater mentioned at the beginning of this article, there is still much to do.
 
Precisely, the situation that the sanitary crisis caused by the pandemic of COVID-19 has led to today, has highlighted the importance of having a solid system of essential services, including water and sanitation. Perhaps the undeniable reality, supported by the facts and data collected in reports such as the latter from the World Bank, end up taking action to those countries that still remain on the sidelines.  
 
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