PurposeWastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) have long-time environmental impacts. The purpose of this paper is to assess the environmental footprint of two advanced wastewater treatment (WWT) technologies in a life cycle and sustainability perspective and identify the improvement alternatives.Design/methodology/approachIn this study life cycle-based environmental assessment of two advanced WWT technologies (moving bed biofilm reactor (MBBR) and sequencing batch reactor (SBR)) has been carried out to compare different technological options. Life cycle impacts were computed using GaBi software employing the CML 2 (2010) methodology. Primary data were collected and analysed through surveys and on-site visits to WWTPs. The present study attempts to achieve significantly transparent results using life cycle assessment (LCA) in limited availability of data.FindingsThe results of both direct measurements in the studied wastewater systems and the LCA support the fact that advanced treatment has the best environmental performance. The results show that the operation phase contributes to nearly 99 per cent for the impacts of the plant. The study identified emissions associated with electricity production required to operate the WWTPs, chemical usage, emissions to water from treated effluent and heavy metal emissions from waste sludge applied to land are the major contributors for overall environmental impacts. SBR is found to be the best option for WWT as compared to MBBR in the urban context. In order to improve the overall environmental performance, the wastewater recovery, that is, reusable water should be improved. Further, sludge utilisation for energy recovery should be considered. The results of the study show that the avoided impacts of energy recovery can be even greater than direct impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from the wastewater system. Therefore, measures which combine reusing wastewater with energy generation should be preferred. The study highlights the major shortcoming, i.e., the lack of national life cycle inventories and databases in India limiting the wide application of LCA in the context of environmental decision making.Research limitations/implicationsThe results of this study express only the environmental impacts of the operation phase of WWT system and sludge management options. Therefore, it is recommended that further LCAs studies should be carried out to investigate construction and demolition phase and also there is need to reconsider the toxicological- and pathogen-related impact categories. The results obtained through this type of LCA studies can be used in the decision-making framework for selection of appropriate WWT technology by considering LCA results as one of the attributes.Practical implicationsThe results of LCA modelling show that though the environmental impacts associated with advanced technologies are high, these technologies produce the good reusable quality of effluent. In areas where water is scarce, governments should promote reusing wastewater by providing additional treatment under safe conditions as much as possible with advanced WWT. The LCA model for WWT and management planning can be used for the environmental assessment of WWT technologies.Originality/valueThe current work provides a site-specific data on sustainable WWT and management. The study contributes to the development of the regional reference input data for LCA (inventory development) in the domain of wastewater management.
World Journal of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development – Emerald Publishing
Published: Apr 3, 2018