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Wastewater Recycling and Reuse in India

As freshwater is fast becoming a scarce resource, it's high time India takes wastewater recycle and reuse seriously

March 13, 2019 / 01:41 PM IST

By Nideshna Naidu

Water and the Economy

India’s growth story has been impressive so far with industry and service sectors being the growth drivers. Along with industrial and population growth, the demand for water also increases. Unpredictable rainfall patterns because of climate change, depleting water resources because of extreme groundwater extraction, contamination of available surface/groundwater resources due to discharge of untreated sewage, and/or industry effluents have had an impact on water quantity and quality. Per capita water availability is expected to reach 1,140 cubic meters by 2050 from 1,820 cubic meters in 2001. As India’s water problems are self-inflicted, the need to adopt sustainable water management practices is crucial.

Recycle and Reuse – Need of the Hour

In order to meet the growing water demand, two sustainable options are available – desalination and wastewater recycle and reuse. Though desalination is being accepted as a potential opportunity, treatment of wastewater for recycle and reuse is still in the nascent stage. The wastewater recycling and reuse concept, which is already prevalent in most of Europe and America, is currently gaining recognition in India. Growth in these regions can be attributed to strict laws, stringent wastewater discharge limits, and increasing scarcity of freshwater. The necessity to treat wastewater for recycling and reuse is slowly gaining grounds in industries, municipalities, and residential segments.

With mounting water issues, municipalities are under stress to provide water (potable and non-potable) to industrial, commercial, and residential segments. Though wastewater recycling and reuse is an option to meet water requirements, some factors are limiting its use, such as:

• High price sensitivity towards advanced wastewater treatment systems
• Negative perception about wastewater recycling
• Lack of technological awareness and skilled manpower
• Fragmented nature of the market
• Weak enforcement of regulations and policies

Public perception about recycling and reusing wastewater is the most important influencing factor for its penetration in the municipal segment. Aversion towards usage of recycled water for potable purposes hampers the efforts of water management in the municipal sector. On the other hand, industrial segment is the forerunner in utilizing treated sewage for its water needs. Industrial end users procure treated sewage from municipalities, further treat it and reuse it for non-potable applications such as boiler feed water and cooling towers in a power plant. For instance, Chennai’s Water Board supplies 45 million liters per day (MLD) of treated sewage to companies such as Madras Refineries and Madras Fertilizers.

Wastewater recycling and reuse has also been adopted by the residential segment in recent years. Wastewater is being treated and recycled within residential compounds for applications such as landscaping/watering plants and flushing. Wastewater recycling and reuse equipment market in India was Rs 8,500 million in 2012 and is forecast to grow annually at the rate of around 10 percent.

In the industrial segment, wastewater recycling reduces the water footprint, thereby lowering water bills in the long-term. Recycling and reusing wastewater not only helps in narrowing the demand-supply gap in the industrial segment, but also brings in revenue for the municipal segment through sale of treated sewage to industries.

Road Ahead

Tremendous potential exists for wastewater recycling and reuse in India, as only 30 percent of the wastewater generated is treated. Industrial segment is most attractive for recycle and reuse, mainly for non- potable applications. Tax breaks are being contemplated by the Government for industrial users to encourage saving water. Such a policy is long overdue in India and could boost the market for recycle and reuse technologies.

Industries such as power, textiles, dyeing units, tanneries, and refineries have more potential for wastewater recycle and reuse. Commercial and residential segments can reduce their freshwater intake by adopting wastewater recycling, thereby, easing the burden on the municipalities. Municipalities benefit by selling treated sewage to industries, which helps them in recovering their capital costs. Sources of potable drinking water such as rivers and streams can be saved from getting polluted as minimal effluent and sewage is discharged to the ecosystem after proper treatment. As this seems to be a win-win-win situation for all, wastewater recycling and reuse is the need of the hour.

The author of this article, Nideshna Naidu, is Industry Analyst, Environment & Building Technologies Practice at Frost & Sullivan

Read more on wastewater reuse:

Economics of wastewater reuse

State of wastewater treatment in India

Clean water: The right of every individual

Why should we reuse wastewater

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