Nature doesn’t waste water. Why should we?

Guest blog by Molly Winter, Program Manager for Recode.

Recode – Recoding for Sustainability – is an OEC partner working to accelerate adoption of sustainable building and development practices

Unlike nature’s water cycle, when we use water for urban, agricultural or industrial systems, humans create wastewater. Wastewater carries pharmaceuticals, metals, fertilizers and other pollution into our rivers, oceans and groundwater supplies – ultimately contaminating our drinking water and causing harm to the environment.

This year on World Water Day, the United Nations Water program is focusing on the impacts of wastewater globally. At Recode, we are interested in how the next generation of infrastructure will reclaim what is now “waste” and transform it into valuable inputs for our food web and make the water cycle work better for every living thing.   

Image Credit: Naotake Murayama on Flickr

As our nation’s water infrastructure rushes 50-100 years past its designed lifespan, we have an opportunity to transform how this system works. Like aluminum cans, glass bottles and other recyclables, wastewater can be repurposed as greywater on our gardens, treated and reused for green spaces in our cities, and applied as rich compost in agriculture. A range of low and high tech methods can transform wastewater into fertilizer and clean water with a little foresight and planning.

To accelerate the adoption of this new paradigm, Recode is collaborating with the International Living Future Institute to make it easier for the building and infrastructure industry to adopt sustainable water treatment systems. Recode is helping builder navigate regulatory hurdles to help make appropriate next generation water reuse systems accessible, at any scale of development, from individual residential to entire neighborhoods.  

There are beautiful examples of this new approach to wastewater happening all over the world. Copenhagen’s harbor transformed a former sewage outfall into a popular urban swim spot in just fifteen years.

Image Credit: GBD Architects

In Portland, a cluster of high rises in the Lloyd District known as Hassalo on Eighth is treating and reusing all of its wastewater onsite. The system is integrated with the popular interior courtyard’s water features and landscaping.  The nutrients from the surrounding buildings’ sewage are treated on-site and reused as a rich earth amendment for dry pastureland in Eastern Oregon.  

These practices don’t just help reduce waste and save the environment, they’re also good for the business bottom line. Check out Recode’s case study on Hassalo to find out how the project saved money by treating sewage onsite.

This World Water Day, take a moment to think about what happens to your wastewater – from your home toilet flush and soapy laundry – after it leaves your home.

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