This study evaluated the sustainability of community water systems based on metrics of human health, environmental impact, economic tradeoffs, eutrophication potential, and technical resilience. Five systems currently in use in the coastal town of Falmouth, MA on Cape Cod were studied and compared to traditional centralized systems. These systems include dry composting toilets with onsite greywater treatment, urine-diverting toilets with onsite septic tanks, low-volume flush toilets with anaerobic co-digestion of food waste for energy recovery, and a similar system that includes onsite rainwater harvesting and UV disinfection for non-potable household use. All five technologies were investigated using decision-making criteria that considered the problem of traditional systems such as homeowner preferences and understanding the availability of alternative options. The Authors also provided recommendations. The results of this comparative analysis showed that alternative systems reduce the human health impacts, environmental harm, and cost of wastewater treatment compared with centralized systems in this area. The most significant benefits were human health and eutrophication potential, as the alternative systems provided better treatment of effluent before discharge. Additional research on the energy demand of some of the alternatives is needed, and the novelty of these treatment systems made life cycle analysis difficult, particularly as the population served continues to grow. Practitioners may use these findings to evaluate suitable treatment technologies for their areas and circumstances. The need for innovation persists to generate treatment systems that are advantageous across these metrics.

Authors: Schoen, M.E., X. Xue, A. Wood, T.R. Hawkins, J. Garland, and N.J. Ashbolt.
Year: 2017
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Water Research 109: 186-195. doi:10.1016/j.watres.2016.11.044

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