What is Wastewater?

Wastewater is defined as any water used and discarded by humans. It consists of water and harmful materials. These harmful materials can include any of the following:

  • Pathogens: Disease-causing bacteria
  • Inorganic solids:
  • Scum: Fats, oils and grease
  • Fine debris
  • Nutrients: Ammonia, phosphorus, and Nitrogen
  • Grit: Sand, gravel, and rocks

There are two main sources of wastewater:

Residential/Domestic Wastewater

Water derived from everyday human activities such as laundry, showering, dishwashing, toilet flushing etc. Residential wastewater is sometimes further broken down into two categories:

Gray water – This is water from showers, bathroom sinks, washing machines etc.

Black water – This usually refers to water from the toilet and kitchen sink.

Commercial Wastewater

Water derived from non-domestic sources such as beauty salons, factories, auto body shops etc. This kind of wastewater may contain hazardous elements and often requires special treatment methods.

Connection to the Ocean

All water on land ends up back to the ocean in some way. This known fact made governments around the world implement wastewater treatment policies. Wastewater should be treated before entering the ocean to avoid ocean pollution. If wastewater is not treated, it can cause detrimental consequences for the marine environment.

A 2010 study of Elkhorn coral, identified human sewage as a possible cause for a disease plaguing this species of coral. When scientists introduce bacteria from human sewage to the coral, it caught the disease known as ‘white pox’  within a matter of days.

Since this discovery, some countries and governments have been upgrading their wastewater treatments and policies. However, there are still many places that have outdated or no treatment plans for wastewater.

Wastewater treatment plant
Aerated pool for waste water
Photograpy © 22Kartika CC BY-SA 3.0


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