Prado constructed wetlands (Source: Orange County Water District)

Wastewater pollution has been part of life since human populations expanded, and people started living in close proximity to each other. Likewise, ocean dumping is an age-old problem, because the ocean seems vast and limitless, and capable of absorbing whatever we need to dispose. We have a global sanitation crisis giving rise to the need to address this very human problem of better managing and treating human waste. Innovation is happening in this space, and the marketplace is beginning to see and capture the value of human waste. Addressing wastewater pollution, and how we manage and treat waste, presents an opportunity to create multiple benefits for both people and the environment, with the same effort.

As the value of human “waste” is better understood and fully realized, there is an opportunity for those working in the environmental space to capitalize on this understanding, as well as the new technology. While these technological developments are exciting, and good for people in developing areas, they are only the beginning of what needs to be a bigger effort to reduce sewage wastewater pollution in the environment.

Green infrastructure (e.g., constructed wetlands) can provide natural solutions in some situations, but grey infrastructure (e.g., treatment plants) is also a critical piece of the equation. Also, calls for improvements and upgrades from the environmental sector will be important. Finding the balance between green and grey infrastructure is important when considering solutions. Given the value of human waste, the opportunity to remove “waste” from the term “wastewater” is more likely now than ever. Not only are funds becoming available to improve sanitation, reduce pollution, and increase human well-being, we can also create value, and even fund the costs of these efforts, by capturing resources and realizing the value around human waste.