Wastewater: Making the connection

A wave of negativity surrounds the idea of wastewater

For World Environment Day 2017, we were encouraged to connect with nature but do we see wastewater as a part of nature? Can we connect with it? Does it have a purpose?

A wave of negativity surrounds the idea of wastewater. It has a bad reputation for the hazards it poses to human and environmental health and the negative impact it can have on our economies. However, when treated, it creates opportunities for greatly improving our quality of life. By looking beyond the surface of wastewater challenges, we can delve into the value of wastewater as a precious commodity. It improves access to a sustainable and safe supply of water- important if we are to increase food security and sustainably generate energy thereby alleviating poverty.

Treated wastewater: Re-connecting us with nature

As children of the Wider Caribbean Region, many of us remember with enjoyment playing in puddles of water after heavy rains without a second thought or knowledge of any risks to our health. Did we think that this water could be contaminated? We remember taking walks and drinking water directly from rivers and streams to refresh ourselves.  Did we think whether this water was safe to drink?  Of course not – it was natural…and safe. What about today?

As our surface and groundwater sources become more contaminated, including from untreated and partially treated wastewater, these childhood recollections become just that - distant memories – actions that are no longer desirable or possible. Pollution and our inadequate disposal of wastewater are the reasons for this. We have lost our connection with nature; but what if we could re-connect by altering how we manage wastewater and how we perceive it?

Think about it, every time you use water, you generate wastewater. Wise wastewater management is about controlling and regulating the treatment and flow of wastewater. While large outflows, like those coming from connected sewer systems in our homes, offices and industries, require more advanced management, there are simple and easily adaptable ways we can channel some of the wastewater we generate for reuse in our everyday life. For example, reusing the grey water generated from washing laundry and doing dishes to water your garden or flush toilets is a simple way for us to start.  

Connecting with wastewater

The United Nations Water (UN WATER) encouraged us on World Water Day in March 2017 to think of the business opportunities that wastewater can offer which can also promote a green economy. In the Caribbean, whilst countries have realised this potential, enhancing the reuse of wastewater requires significant investment in the sector, including an identification of incentives for private sector involvement and a coordinated and inter-sectoral approach to wastewater management. But what can we do as individuals?

Across the world people are finding ways to re-purpose wastewater on an individual level. Managing wastewater more wisely is not beyond our reach. By looking at examples from across the world, we can learn more about re-purposing wastewater so we can make informed decisions about wastewater reuse in our homes, schools and offices. 

We need to start by changing our perception and removing the “YUCK” factor. Perhaps we can disassociate the word “waste” from “waste-water” and look to rebrand this substance from which we can derive so many positive and safe uses. Let us connect with nature by connecting with wastewater!

By Chrishane Williams
Communications Consultant
Global Environment Facility funded Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (GEF CReW) Project
United Nations (UN) Environment Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP)

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For more information contact:

Christopher Corbin
Programme Officer
Pollution/Communications Sub-Programmes
Cartagena Convention Secretariat
Ecosystems Division
UN Environment
14-20 Port Royal Street, Kingston,
JAMAICA
E mail: Christopher.Corbin@unenvironment.org
Tel. # 1 876 922 9267, 68, 69
Fax # 1 876 922 9292