“… No water to waste… not even wastewater…” sounds puzzling? Well, it is no secret that the countries of Southeast Asia are confronting a massive water scarcity, the situation worsening by the day to the extent that even wastewater will no longer be considered waste per se.
Given the enormity of the water scarcity, the need of the hour is to implement appropriate water management strategies, of which reusing wastewater or water recycling seems to be a promising option. With rapid economic growth and industrialization, Southeast Asia is among the fastest-growing markets for wastewater treatment and reuse with average annual growth projected at upwards of 15 percent in the years ahead. Added to this, the world's growing concern about water supply is making the wastewater reuse market more and more attractive.
The 3R Mantra Is Reverberating Throughout!
Gone are the days when wastewater was just let off the drain. The 3 ‘R’s - reduce, reuse and recycle seems to be the new mantra that is echoing throughout the globe. Wastewater reuse appears to be the order of the day in most of the water-starved Southeast Asian countries. The benefits of using recycled water include protection of water resources, prevention of coastal pollution, recovery of nutrients for agriculture, savings in wastewater treatment, enhancing ground water recharge and sustainability of water resource management. However, given these benefits, wastewater reuse should not be treated simply as a means to an end but should be in conjunction with other water conservation measures.
Recycled Water Benefits Community!
Wastewater reuse can not only help maintain upstream environmental quality by reducing the demand for new water sources, but can also offer communities an opportunity for pollution abatement by reducing effluent discharge to surface waters. In some cases recycled water offers more than just environmental benefits! For instance, treated wastewater contains nutrients that can be recycled by plants, reducing fertilizer costs and making it perfect for irrigation. Recycling wastewater helps poor urban households raise incomes. This is a typical case at Hanoi where wastewater from starch processing is used as nutrient-rich irrigation water for dry-season crops.
Apart from this recycled wastewater is also used for horticultural irrigation, residential garden irrigation and toilet flushing. Typically wastewater is produced in a larger quantity in the cities but used for agriculture in the countryside. Southeast Asia faces a particularly pressing water resources challenge. It has a largely agricultural population heavily reliant on the over exploitation of groundwater for its survival. Using recycled water can help reduce this pressure.
Reuse Market Primed for Take Off!
The market for environmental goods and services in Southeast Asia is burgeoning, with substantial investments made in the wastewater treatment sector. In particular, the wastewater reuse market is poised for tremendous growth. This sector is likely to be confined to urban areas where there is some degree of wastewater collection. This can be exploited by industrial water users who will likely be prepared to make the investment in treatment in order to secure a reliable water supply.
The developments in the wastewater treatment market is found to have repercussions on the reuse market as well, given that recycled water is nothing but treated wastewater. Key markets such as Taiwan, Philippines are benefiting from a substantial investment in wastewater infrastructure.
Such markets have a strong potential for reuse and are expanding from a low base. The main beneficiaries of the expansion in water reuse are membrane manufacturers and process engineers. The massive developments in the wastewater treatment sector in turn pave the way for promising trends in the reuse sector.
What’s Fueling this Market?
The water recycling market is chauffeured by
- Increased demand for water: Soaring population, explosive industrialization and urbanization in Asia have drained the water resources leading to surmounting pressure for water
- Increasing environmental concern over wastewater discharge: Rising awareness about preserving the water resources has made the treatment of wastewater mandatory, ultimately pushing the reuse market
- Affordability: The maturity of membrane technologies in the wastewater treatment sector has reduced costs and broadened the scope of the wastewater reuse market
- Public policy: Stringent regulations pertaining to discharge of wastewater drive the market for wastewater treatment, benefiting the reuse market indirectly
Recycled Water is here to Stay!
Wastewater reuse seems to be the panacea for countries battling a mammoth water crisis. The city state of Singapore, which for long was relying on Malaysia to meet the water needs, embarked on a program to improve self sufficiency called the NEWater project. This project is a classic example of how recycled water can be put to best use. NEWater is high grade water produced from treated used water by advanced water purification and membrane technologies.
What’s in Store for the Future?
Well, the world water report predicts that by the middle of this century, at worst, 7 billion in 60 countries will be short of water, at best, 2 billion people in 48 countries will suffer shortages. With dwindling water resources coupled with escalating water demands, reusing wastewater might be a promising alternative for Southeast Asia.
Taking the cue from Singapore, the rest of the water-starved countries may look into water recycling, soaking up the pros and cons. At the end of the day all that matters is our understanding of the fact that water becomes too precious to be used just once. By working together to overcome obstacles, water recycling, along with water conservation can help us to conserve and sustainably manage our vital water resources.