Johannesburg, 12 January 2021: Though the dangers of waste products, such as disease, only became evident over time, ancient societies long tried to manage the problem. For example, the Ancient Greeks built covered sewage systems, some of which still operate today, 4,000 years later. Romans, the Indus Valley people, and China’s Northern Song Dynasty all made breakthroughs in the ancient waste management world. But it was only around the rise of industrialisation, such as London’s Bazalgette sewer system from the mid-1800s, that modern wastewater management became a concept.
We have learned a lot since then, explains Chetan Mistry, Strategy and Marketing Manager for Africa, “There’s no doubt that modern sanitation practices have created a better world. There is less disease, cities are no longer dangerously septic, and clean water is something available to most people on the planet. But there are still many improvements that we can make. For example, the idea of pollution dilution is completely outdated.”
Pollution dilution was, at face value, a sound idea for its time. It holds that waste such as affluent will become harmless once introduced into much larger bodies of water. But it’s insufficient, bad for the environment, and potentially very harmful to humans.
“We’ve become much more aware of what is in waste. As detection methods improved, the world learned that waste contains previously undetected things such as medicinal waste, microplastics, endocrine plastics, and hormone disruptors. These types of waste are not diluting in the ecosystem, nor do they need large quantities to be a risk factor for humans.”
There is growing acknowledgement that it’s not wise to pump waste, treated or otherwise, into our water systems - especially when you look at how much more urbanised and densely populated our cities are becoming.
These newly discovered types of waste need tertiary steps to remove, often mandated by national and international laws governing the quality of water. Underpinning those efforts, and driving more efficiencies for water treatment, are monitoring, measurement and tracking technologies.
The standard wastewater cycle, in broad strokes, requires the removal of grit, sand, organics, large objects, and creatures such as bacteria. New types of waste add to those processes. This is an opportunity to systematically improve all of the treatment cycle, through the following elements:
The above enhancements don’t need to replace current facilities. But there is room for improvement, and the combination of digital technologies and modern best practices open a world of choice for current and future wastewater treatment facilities. These can be introduced at various levels, says Mistry:
“The best place to start is creating visibility. Put in a few sensors and start collecting the data, then put it through analytics and dashboards to help your decision making. You can focus on a specific part of the facility, using successes there to motivate for other improvements. Ultimately, you’ll realise efficiencies and operational improvements that didn’t even exist not that long ago. This is probably the most exciting time for a treatment facility, because the possibilities are enormous and very flexible, including modular and single-tank processes.”
Xylem (XYL) is a leading global water technology company committed to solving critical water and infrastructure challenges with technological innovation. More than 16,000 diverse employees delivered revenue of $5.25 billion in 2019. Xylem is creating a more sustainable world by enabling its customers to optimize water and resource management and helping communities in more than 150 countries become water secure. www.xylem.com.
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