World needs to treat 8.56bn m3/y additional wastewater to meet SDGs

22nd March 2023 By: Natasha Odendaal - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

As the United Nations (UN) prepares to review the progress made in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), new research has revealed that global wastewater treatment capacity needs to increase by 8.56-billion cubic metres every year to meet the 2030 ambitions.

Independent research commissioned by automation, electrification and digitisation group ABB, released ahead of World Water Day on March 22, found that investment in an additional 469 treatment facilities a year was also required.

“The research proves more needs to be done to help support the UN goal and accelerate progress in tackling water security,” says ABB Energy Industries president Brandon Spencer.

The research was released prior to the UN 2023 Water Conference, set to be held in New York this week, where a new Water Action Agenda will be launched.

According to the UN, 2.2-billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water, while more than 4.2-billion people lack safely managed sanitation.

ABB’s research, investigating the steps that need to be taken to address the treatment of wastewater as per SDG 6.3, found that 48%, or 171.3-billion cubic metres, of wastewater is uncollected or untreated each year.

The research, undertaken by Development Economics and based on modelling using a 50-million-litre daily capacity wastewater treatment plant as the benchmark, indicates that to achieve SDG 6.3 this needs to be halved, to just under 24%, or 85.65-billion cubic metres.

Eighty per cent of global wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused and half of wastewater coming out of households from their toilets, sinks, drains and gutters, flows back into nature without harmful substances removed, both of which has a negative impact on public health, the environment and marine life, he points out

However, there is a need to ensure the wastewater targets are achieved in the most energy and resource efficient way possible to make it sustainable.

Treating wastewater is energy-intensive, with the industry consuming up to 3% of the world’s total energy output and contributing to over 1.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is where technology is key,” he says, noting that while increasing wastewater treatment capacity is a priority, the early integration of technology to drive efficiency is also vital.

According to ABB’s 2022 Energy Transition Equation report, through greater integration of automation and digital technologies, wastewater sites can reduce carbon emissions by up to 2 000 t a year and water companies can deliver yearly operational savings of up to $1.2-million for each plant.

With over 50 000 plants globally, 100-million tonnes of carbon emissions can be saved each year.