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Wastewater Treatment Residues as Resources for Biorefinery Products and Biofuels

Wastewater Treatment Residues as Resources for Biorefinery Products and Biofuels

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Wastewater Treatment Residues as Resources for Biorefinery Products and Biofuels

1,123 pages
12 hours
Nov 21, 2019


Wastewater Treatment Residues as Resources for Biorefinery Products and Energy reviews wastewater treatment processes and the use of residues. The viability of end use processes for residues, such as incineration, cement additives, agricultural fertilizers, and methane production are reviewed and analyzed, as are new processes for the use of residues within a fuels production system, such as pyrolysis, hydrothermal liquefaction and syngas. Specialized chapters discuss fractionation of biomass, the production of compounds from volatile fatty acids that conceptually proceed from the anaerobic acidogenesis of residues, and a final analysis of the overall productivity and viability that can be expected from these production schemes.

  • Discusses processes for the production of high value-added products and energy development from sludge
  • Provides value-added technologies for resource utilization in wastewater systems
  • Outlines sustainability assessments and comparisons of technologies and processes
Nov 21, 2019

Об авторе

Editor-in-Chief of the scientific journal Algal Research and the current Chair of the International Conference for Algal Biomass, Biofuels and Bioproducts (AlgalBBB), which he has helped organize since its inception in 2010. He retired from Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2015 where he last served as Division Leader for the Bioscience Division. In this position, Dr. Olivares provided strategic, technical and operational management for all activities within the Division. Major focus areas for the 150 staff within the Division included a long-standing efforts in biosecurity, biosurveillance, and public health security. New areas of growth included bioenergy and biome science. He also served as the Executive Director of the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts, a consortium of over 30 institutions awarded a $49M program by DOE-EERE along with $20M of cost share from industry and academia. Previously he served in several program and technical management positions at Los Alamos National Laboratory, including Biofuels Program Manager and acting Division Leader for Chemistry. In these positions he was responsible for developing strategic direction for science programs, operations, and leading specific program development efforts. Dr. Olivares has extensive experience with private industry and has served as a consultant for several small companies and government agencies. Dr. Olivares continues to serve as a program reviewer and consultant on a call basis. In 2017, he served as guest scientist with IMDEA Energy and Universidad Rey Juan Carlos under a six month “Catedra de Excelencia” funded by the Community of Madrid, Spain.

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Wastewater Treatment Residues as Resources for Biorefinery Products and Biofuels - Jose Antonio Olivares


Part I

Wastewater treatment as a process and a resource

Chapter 1

Waste as a resource: Waste is raw material in the wrong place

Barbara Zeschmar-Lahl    BZL Communication and Project Management GmbH, Oyten, Germany


In the EU-28, roughly 7400 million tonnes of materials are processed every year. The mass that leaves the system as waste is about one-third of it. The biggest share of all waste generated went to landfills (945 million tonnes in 2014), followed by material recovery (recovery other than energy recovery and except backfilling, 841 million tonnes) and by backfilling (237 million tonnes). The EU intends to increase reuse, recycling, and recovery of different types of waste. This chapter describes potential resources available in mixed ordinary wastes (household/municipal waste and bulky waste), mineral and solidified wastes (construction and demolition waste and waste from mining and quarrying operations), and common sludges. Recycling is not the goal, but the way, in which recycling activities should not endanger man and environment through carryover of contaminants. Used products containing hazardous substances ought to be recycled without contaminating the environment or recycled materials.


Waste generation; Waste treatment; Mixed ordinary wastes; Mineral and solidified wastes; Common sludges; Critical raw materials (CRM); Phosphorus

Waste is raw material in the wrong place

It is not known to whom this slogan can be attributed to. In Germany, it appears in 1975 for the first time as a press quote from State Secretary Hartkopf [1]. Today, it is common knowledge, and it is gladly used for this chapter’s title or expanded, for example, Waste is raw materials at the wrong time in the wrong place.

Most European countries are net importers of raw materials. The EU currently imports about half the resources it consumes (in raw material equivalents) [2]. In particular, primary raw materials, such as almost all metals, rare earths, and phosphorus, have to be purchased and imported on the world markets. Other raw materials, such as gravel and sand for the construction industry and potash and salts for the chemical and agricultural industries, are (still) available in sufficient quantities in Europe. However, their extraction is often associated with high energy consumption; emissions to water, air, and soil; and landscape consumption and loss of biodiversity. Therefore, it is necessary, not only from an economic but also from an ecological point of view, to make the resources contained in waste usable again, as much as possible. In the recycling of mineral raw materials, for example, the use of primary raw materials can be reduced, which reduces dependence on imports, conserves natural resources, and reduces the quantities of residual materials to be landfilled. Compared with primary production, energy requirements and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, too.

Municipal waste contains many end-of-life products that can in principle be recycled, be it by mechanical (such as metals and selected plastic fractions such as beverage bottles made of PET, or agricultural film) or chemical recovery (solid plastic waste, by chemolysis, pyrolysis, fluid catalytic cracking (FCC), hydrogen technologies, and others) [3]. However, such recovery requires separate collection systems or material splitting plants and suitable recycling plants and is often not economically feasible and within easy reach of waste treatment facilities or is still in the pilot stage with only low throughputs. As a consequence, the raw material potential of many types of waste is often not or only insufficiently exploited. The same applies to sewage sludge from municipal wastewater treatment, which contains very high levels of essential plant nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. For selected waste streams, known to contain high concentrations of valuable raw materials or pollutants, there are European Union (EU) regulations for separate collection for the purpose of treatment and recovery of valuables or separation and safe disposal of pollutants, such as for end-of-life vehicles (ELVs),a batteries and accumulators,b waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE),c and packaging waste.d

Waste generation in the European Union (EU)

In the EU-28, roughly 7400 million (7.4 billion) tonnes of materials are processed every year, with 4700 million tonnes of outputs; these are all wastes and emissions that leave the economy (including CO2 emissions and waste deposited onto land) [2]. In 2016, total waste generation in the EU-28 was about 2500 million tonnes. This means that about one-third of the material consumed in the EU leaves the system as waste. Most of it comes from construction and demolition (36%), mining and quarrying sectors (25%), followed by manufacturing (10%), waste collection, treatment and disposal activities, and materials recovery (9%) and households (8%) (see Table 1.1).

Table 1.1

a Household and similar wastes, mixed and undifferentiated materials and sorting residues.

b Metal, glass, paper and cardboard, rubber, plastic, wood, and textile wastes.

In 2016, manufacturing is the third largest waste producer in the EU-28 (10%), ahead of households and others (sum of further NACE codes, each below manufacturing). Table 1.2 shows the contributions of the different sectors to waste generation in manufacturing. The largest contributions to waste generation are from manufacture of basic metals and fabricated metal products (27%) and manufacture of chemical, pharmaceutical, rubber, and plastic products (22%).

Table 1.2

a Household and similar wastes, mixed and undifferentiated materials and sorting residues.

b Metal, glass, paper and cardboard, rubber, plastic, wood, and textile wastes.

c The value for the total manufacturing waste given in the database exceeds the sum of the different types of waste.

Across EU-28, mineral and solidified wastes account for 71% of the total waste generated, mixed ordinary wastes (i.e., household and similar wastes, mixed and undifferentiated materials, and sorting residues) for 12%, and recyclable wastes (i.e., metal, glass, paper and cardboard, rubber, plastic, wood, and textile wastes) for 10% in 2016 (see Table 1.3).

Table 1.3

a Household and similar wastes, mixed and undifferentiated materials and sorting residues.

b Metal, glass, paper and cardboard, rubber, plastic, wood, and textile wastes.

The total amount of waste generated in 2016 includes almost 100 million tonnes of hazardous waste, with the largest shares from Germany (22.9), Bulgaria (13.3), and France (11.0 million tonnes).

Based on the total amount of waste (hazardous plus nonhazardous) generated in 2016, each EU citizen produced on average 5 tonnes of waste (4.962 tonnes), ranging from 1.3 tonnes/capita (cap) in Croatia to 22.4 tonnes/cap in Finland. Excluding major mineral wastes, the EU-28 average amounts to a waste generation of 1.8 t/cap in EU-28, with a range of 828 kg/cap in Croatia to nearly 10 tonnes/cap in Estonia. This large inhabitant-specific value for Estonia is related to energy production based on oil shale, which accounts for a large share of the waste generated in this Member State. Regarding solely waste from households, which contributes only to 8.5% to the total amount of waste generated in 2016 in the EU-28, the average total waste production is 420 kg/cap with a range from 208 (Romania) to 1099 kg/cap (Luxembourg) in 2016. Generation of waste from households excluding major mineral wastes amounted to 408 kg/cap with a range from 198 (Romania) to 606 kg/cap (Denmark) in 2016 [4].

Waste treatment in the European Union (EU)

In general data on waste generation and on waste treatment in the EU-28 are not coherent [5]: The information on the generation of waste cannot be directly linked to the information on the treatment of waste for several reasons. The generation of waste concerns the waste produced in the country, the treatment of waste the waste treated in the country, so differences can occur due to import and export of waste. This will be the case for discarded vehicles (generation, 9.2 million tonnes; treatment, 5.7 million tonnes) or other discarded equipment (5.3 vs 3.8 million tonnes), for example. Moreover, the generation of waste includes the waste produced by waste treatment activities (sorting, composting, incineration), whereas the treatment table only includes the final treatment. Waste treatment is a process which takes time and in the meanwhile some of the weight might be lost (drying). This is the case for common sludges (18.5 vs 12.3 million tonnes), for example. In short, the two components of waste statistics, generation and treatment, will be equal rather by coincidence.

With regard to the absolute amount of wastes going to waste operations in 2014 (2321 million tonnes; data for 2016 are not yet available), the biggest share in EU-28 went to landfilling (945 million tonnes), followed by material recovery (recovery other than energy recovery and except backfilling; 841 million tonnes), and by backfilling (237 million tonnes) (Fig. 1.1).

Fig. 1.1 Treatment of waste in the European Union (EU-28, hazardous and nonhazardous) by waste operations, in million tonnes. Graph generated based on data from EUROSTAT [6].

Waste management systems in the EU Member States differ significantly, as can be derived from Fig. 1.2. The EU-28 average for disposal of untreated waste in landfills in 2014 was 41% with a range from 3% (the Netherlands) to 98% (Bulgaria). Regarding material recovery (except backfilling), the EU-28 average was 36%, with a minimum of 2% (Bulgaria) and a maximum of 77% (Italy) (Fig. 1.2). Only a few countries had a share of more than 10% of incineration with energy recovery (R1); these were Denmark (21%), Belgium (13%), and Germany (11%).

Fig. 1.2 Treatment of waste in the European Union (EU-28, hazardous and nonhazardous) by waste operations, sorted by material recovery, except backfilling (bar far right). Graph generated based on data from EUROSTAT [6].

Table 1.4 shows the treatment of waste by waste category, 2014, in EU-28 in million tonnes. Disposal—landfill and other—is still the major treatment for mixed ordinary waste (42%) and the second most for chemical and medical wastes (24%). Energy recovery is the major treatment for wood wastes (52%) and rubber wastes (45%). Regarding other recyclable wastes, material recovery is predominant in discarded equipment (98%), animal and vegetable waste (89%), common sludges (57%), and chemical and medical wastes (45%). The referring data for 2016 are not yet available at EUROSTAT.

Table 1.4

On the other hand, it is unsatisfactory that some of the separately collected recyclables (wood, rubber, and plastic waste) do not meet the high material recycling rates achieved in discarded equipment (96%–99%). As for mixed ordinary waste, the situation is still worse. Here, material recycling amounts to only 19%, far behind disposal (42%) and energy recovery (28%).

The circular material use rate (CMU) is an indicator that measures the share of material recovered and fed back into the economy—thus saving extraction of primary raw materials—in overall material use (as % of total material use). In 2016, this indicator reached 11.7% for the European Union (EU-28), with the Top 5 including The Netherlands (29.0%), France (19.5%), Belgium (18.9%), the United Kingdom (17.2%), and Italy (17.1%) [7]. This indicator shows that the use of secondary resources is still far too little realized in the EU-28.

Resources in mixed ordinary wastes

Mixed ordinary wastes comprise household and similar waste, mixed and undifferentiated materials, and sorting residues. The main sources of mixed ordinary waste are households (43%) followed by waste management activities (32%) and others (15%) (see Table 1.5).

Table 1.5

Household and similar waste comprise four waste categories: mixed municipal waste, bulky waste, municipal wastes not otherwise specified, and street-cleaning residues. Of these, mixed municipal waste and bulky waste contain a lot of valuable resources. The compositions of these wastes are further elaborated in the next few sections.

Household waste/municipal waste

Fig. 1.3 shows the typical qualitative composition of municipal waste. A majority, 55%, of the waste comes from three categories: food waste (25%), paper and board (18%), and plastics (12%). Although food waste is in principle readily biodegradable and, therefore, easily recyclable (as animal feed, compost or digestate, and biogas), this is a waste for which the priority of waste avoidance is particularly urgent. Despite the existing collection and recycling infrastructure in Europe, nearly a fifth of municipal waste consists of paper and board. Further efforts are needed to raise the remaining potential and achieve higher recycling rates. In 2017, the recycling rate in Europe increased to 72.3% (from 72.0% in 2016) [9]. For plastics, mechanical recycling (direct return of the ground material or the melt and regranulation) is practiced, above all, in the case of single-variety plastic waste (production scrap and processing residues from industry). For postconsumer waste, this is only possible for selected plastic waste with suitable collection systems (e.g., polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles). As a rule, the postconsumer plastic waste generated is too heavily mixed and/or contaminated, so that only downcycling in the form of inferior plastic products is possible. In the case of raw material recycling, used plastics are either used as reducing agents in the steelworks or broken down into their starting substances or into chemical or petrochemical raw materials. However, this option hardly plays a role today. In 2015, for example, only 1% (around 70,000 tonnes) of the plastic waste generated in Germany was directed toward raw material recycling [10].

Fig. 1.3 Typical qualitative composition of municipal waste. Graph generated based on data from Zero Waste Europe, 2015 [8].

With regard to the high share of waste lost for recovery of valuable resources like biowaste, paper and cardboard, plastic, or glass, the EU Council decided in May 2018 to set new rules for waste management and to establish legally binding targets for reuse and recycling of municipal waste and packaging (see Table 1.6). The referring directives entered into force on July 4, 2018 and have to be implemented in national regulation on July 5, 2020, at the latest.

Table 1.6

Member States have to set up, by January 1, 2025, separate collections of textiles and hazardous waste from households. In addition, they have to ensure that by December 31, 2023, biowaste is either collected separately or recycled at source (e.g., home composting). Furthermore, Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that by 2035 the amount of municipal waste landfilled is reduced to 10% (w/w) or less of the total amount of municipal waste generated. A Member State may postpone the deadline for attaining the target by up to 5 years provided that it landfilled more than 60% (w/w) of its municipal waste generated in 2013. It has to notify the commission of its intention to postpone the deadline and to submit an implementation plan. In the event of postponing the deadline in accordance with the rules, the target value by 2035 may reach a maximum of 25%. This exemption rule can be used by the 10 Member States with shares of landfilling in 2013 above 60% (w/w, shares in brackets): Malta (85%), Greece (84%), Croatia (82%), Cyprus (79%), Latvia (74%), Slovakia (70%), Bulgaria (69%), Romania (69%), Hungary (65%), and Lithuania (62%).

Bulky waste

The quantity and composition of bulky waste depend on many factors, such as collection system (curbside collection or transporting system), fee systems, settlement structure, disposable income, and consumption behavior and offer for repair, reuse, or recycling of bulky items. Table 1.7 shows the average composition, by theme, for curbside bulky waste collections and household waste recycling centers (HWRCs) in the United Kingdom. As Table 1.8 shows, around 30% of bulky waste (mainly furniture and so-called white goods, i.e., major household appliances such as stoves, refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers that are typically finished in white enamel) is estimated to be repairable/reuseable; another 20% (white goods and other metal) is recyclable.

Table 1.7

Table 1.8

Resources in mineral and solidified wastes

Mineral and solidified wastes are the dominant waste stream in the EU-28 in 2016 (71%) (see Table 1.1) and should, therefore, be regarded as a potential source of valuable resources, too. Mineral and solidified waste are mainly (85%) generated by the construction and demolition sector (49 of 71%) and the mining and quarrying sectors (35%). The remaining part of the mineral and solidified waste (15%) is from the following sectors: manufacturing (6%); electricity, gas, steam, and air-conditioning supply (6%); and waste collection, treatment and disposal activities, and materials recovery (3%).

Wastes from the construction and demolition sector

The composition of construction and demolition wastes (CDW) varies widely as a function of the type of site. For example, road construction generates a huge amount of excavated materials that, if no further use is possible, will become waste, while a building demolition site will generate a large amount of waste concrete [15]. In general, concrete and masonry are the main material in CDW, if excavated materials are excluded. Other important CDW waste materials are bricks and tiles, timber, glass, plastics, bituminous mixtures, metal mixtures, insulation materials, gypsum-based construction materials, and construction and demolition wastes (including mixed wastes) containing hazardous substances. The stony fraction accounts for about 80% of the total CDW [16].

Article 11.2 of the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC)e stipulates that by 2020 a minimum of 70% (w/w) of nonhazardous construction and demolition waste, excluding naturally occurring material, shall be prepared for reuse and recycled or undergo other material recovery (including backfilling operations using waste to substitute other materials). Following the Innovative Strategies for High-Grade Material Recovery from Construction and Demolition Waste project, some EU countries have attained high recycling rates for the stony fraction, but most of the derived recycled products (recycled aggregates and sands) are used in low-grade applications in civil engineering unbound applications. This market for recycled aggregates, however, is getting more and more saturated. As clean crushed concrete aggregates have a much higher applicability than mixed crushed masonry-concrete aggregates, it is necessary to use only well sorted waste for production of high-quality aggregates. Waste sorting and processing should, therefore, already address the quality of recycled aggregates. Besides on-site segregation, clear and unambiguous waste acceptance criteria and clear quality criteria for the recycled material, like standards and quality labels, are necessary.

Other construction and demolition waste fractions contain valuable resources, too. For flat glass (used for windows, etc.), 1 tonne of recycled material results in savings of 1200 kg of virgin material, 25% of energy and 300 kg of CO2 emissions (directly linked to the melting process). There are similar savings in terms of energy and CO2 emissions for recycled glass wool. For stone wool, the gains may be in the order of 5% with regard to energy consumption and related emissions. As for gypsum, life-cycle assessments have shown typical reductions in global warming potential, human toxicity and eutrophication of about 4%–5% when producing a board with 25% recycled content as opposed to only using virgin material [17]. Almost all the waste plasterboard can be successfully fed into the manufacture of new plasterboard. In general, the presence of fibers in the waste limits its applicability to 25% of the total raw meal for new plasterboard. Other uses of high-quality gypsum from reprocessing waste plasterboard are raw material for cement manufacture, road subbase, and soil improvement for agriculture. In addition, waste plasterboard segregation benefits other CDW recycling, as sulfates, generally coming from plasterboard, are mixed with other CDW fractions in unsorted waste management, which prevents the application of the recycled aggregate [18].

Waste from mining and quarrying operations

Waste from extractive operations (i.e., waste from extraction and processing of mineral resources) consists of mainly inert materials like topsoil, hard rock, waste rock, and tailings. The Best Available Techniques reference document (BREF) for the management of tailings and waste rock in mining activities from 2009 [19] is currently under revision. The draft of the revised BREF [20] does not include any example of recovered waste for the base metal sector (12 example sites), the precious metal sector (7), the potash sector (6), the coal and lignite sector (4), the iron and chromium sector (surface mining), the industrial and construction mineral sector (underground mining), the bauxite sector and the uranium sector (3 each), the titanium ore sector, the oil shale sector, and the peat sector (1 each). The few examples reported for other sectors are shown in Table 1.9.

Table 1.9

NA, not available.

a Recovered waste from the year before the year of reference and therefore not included in the total extraction.

b Two sites reported having no by-products.

c Six sites reported having no recovered wastes.

d One site each.

e Four sites reported having no recovered wastes.

In a report on Member States’ performance regarding the implementation of the Extractive Waste Directive, published by the European Commission in June 2017, the authors summarize their findings concerning the reprocessing of extractive waste [21]: … a narrow range of waste reprocessing was observed with a focus on the reuse of waste rock and overburden for construction related purposes. Only a limited number of examples indicated reprocessing waste and tailings to extract minerals indicating that at the current time, reprocessing activities are typically the productive utilization of inert waste materials rather than innovative reprocessing activities to extract greater value associated with recovery of substances and minerals.

Mining waste provides a potential source of secondary critical raw materials (CRM). The amounts of some CRM in the extraction waste (tailings) disposed in situ (therefore, lost for recovery) in the EU-28 range from 100 kg to more than 10,000 tonnes per year (see Table 1.10). The stock in tailings, that is, the extraction waste disposed in situ/tailings accumulated over time, is about a factor of 10 above, following the European Commission, Joint Research Centre [22].

Table 1.10

Though the losses of CRM by mining/tailing are smaller than those by landfill, they should not be neglected. Best practice for recovery of CRM is system-integrated material production: Taking optimal account of the fact that certain metals in nature are often associated with other metals (e.g., Cd with Zn, Cu and Pb, or neodymium (Nd) with other lanthanides), developing a dedicated national (or regional) strategy, or guidance, for the reprocessing of extractive waste and improving the state of knowledge on extractive waste sites, among others. Furthermore, it is recommended to support the development of technologies to efficiently extract CRMs from primary ores and extractive wastes [22].

Resources in common sludges

Compared with other waste streams in the EU-28, common sludges and, as a part of them, wastewater treatment residues seem to be a minor waste stream. But generation of common sludges amounted to 18.5 million tonnes dry matter (d.m.) in the EU-28 in 2014, which is the same order of magnitude of the amount of separately collected glass waste in the same year. The amount of common sludges treated in 2014 is 12.3 million tonnes (d.m.). Only 57% of common sludge in the EU-28 has been recycled in 2014, most of it in agriculture, while disposal was the second most common treatment (17%), even before energy recovery (see Table 1.4).

According to Annex III of the European Commission Regulation (EC) No. 2150/2002 [23], common sludges include sludges from treatment of urban and industrial wastewater, sludges from on-site effluent treatment, waste from cooling columns, boiler feedwater sludges, sludges from water clarification, unpolluted dredging spoils, and septic tank sludge. Depending on the referring source, common sludges contain different valuable resources of interest, like metals (Cr, Cu, and Ni), organic compounds (amino acids and proteins), and nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen). Currently, the EU imports more than 6 million tonnes of phosphate rock a year, but, according to the Commission, it could recover up to 2 million tonnes of phosphorus from sewage sludge, biodegradable waste, meat and bone meal or manure. [24] In addition, most of the organic content is renewable; only a small amount of polymeric flocculants may be of fossil origin. There are different approaches to using these resources more efficiently than through simple application of sludges in agriculture. These approaches are the core of the following chapters in this book.


Recycling is not the goal, but the way. Waste is a resource, but recycling activities should not endanger man and the environment through carryover of contaminants. Hazardous chemicals in wastes, like heavy metals, can impede the circular economy, as is exemplarily shown by cadmium (Cd) compounds used as stabilizers for PVC profiles [25]. Used products containing hazardous substances ought to be recycled without contaminating the environment or recycled materials. Therefore, it can be restated that waste is raw materials at the wrong time in the wrong place. This finding is still correct for relevant waste streams in the EU-28, like mixed ordinary wastes, minerals and solidified wastes, and common sludges. To better use the existing potential of recyclables, innovative solutions are required. This is true for common sludges, especially wastewater treatment residues, with regard to their hitherto comparably low share of recycling.


[1] State Secretary Hartkopf, Federal Ministry of the Interior, quoted after Handelsblatt, 28.5.1975, cited by R. Keller, Chronik einer angekündigten Katastrophe: Die bundesdeutsche Abfalldiskussion. In: Müll – Die gesellschaftliche Konstruktion des Wertvollen. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften; 2009:doi:10.1007/978-3-531-91731-3_6.

[2] European Parliamentary Research Service. Circular economy. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/infographics/circulareconomy/public/index.html. 2018.

[3] Ragaert K., Delva L., Van Geem K. Mechanical and chemical recycling of solid plastic waste. Waste Manage. 2017. ;69:24–58. ISSN 0956-053X https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2017.07.044, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956053X17305354.

[4] EUROSTAT. Generation of waste by waste category, hazardousness and NACE Rev. 2 activity [env_wasgen]. Last update: 25-01-2019 https://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=env_wasgen&lang=en. 2019.

[5] EUROSTAT. Waste generation and treatment (env_wasgt). Reference Metadata in Euro SDMX Metadata Structure (ESMS), Compiling Agency: Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Union. http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/cache/metadata/en/env_wasgt_esms.htm#coher_compar1526550644485. 2018. 15.4. Coherence-internal,

[6] EUROSTAT. Treatment of waste by waste category, hazardousness and waste operations [env_wastrt]. Last update: 15-05-2018 https://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=env_wastrt&lang=en. 2018.

[7] EUROSTAT. Circular material use rate [env_ac_cur]. Last update: 18-01-2019 https://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=env_ac_cur&lang=en. 2019.

[8] Zeschmar-Lahl B., Schönberger H., Styles D., Galvez-Martos J.-L. Background Report on Best Environmental Management Practice in the Waste Management Sector. Preparatory Findings to Support the Development of an EMAS Sectoral Reference Document. Report for the European Commission's Joint Research Centre; 2016. http://susproc.jrc.ec.europa.eu/activities/emas/documents/WasteManagementBackgroundReport.pdf.

[9] European Paper Recycling Council (EPRC). Monitoring Report 2017, European Declaration on Paper Recycling 2016–2020. http://www.paperforrecycling.eu/download/900/. 2017.

[10] CONSULTIC. Produktion, Verarbeitung und Verwertung von Kunststoffen in Deutschland 2015 – Kurzfassung, 23.09.2016. https://www.bkv-gmbh.de/fileadmin/documents/Studien/Consultic_2015__23.09.2016__Kurzfassung.pdf.

[11] Directive (EU) 2018/851 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 Amending Directive 2008/98/EC on Waste (Text with EEA Relevance). OJ L 150, 14.6.2018. p. 109–140 https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32018L0851&from=EN

[12] Directive (EU) 2018/852 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 amending Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste (Text with EEA relevance). OJ L 150, 14.6.2018, p. 141–154 https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32018L0852&from=EN

[13] Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). Composition of kerbside and HWRC bulky waste. Availabe after submitting user data http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/bulky-waste-technical-report. 2012.

[14] Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). Bulky waste – overview. http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/bulky-waste-overview.

[15] Gálvez-Martos J.L., Styles D., Schoenberger H., Zeschmar-Lahl B. Construction and demolition waste best management practice in Europe. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 2018. ;136:166–178. ISSN 0921-3449 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2018.04.016.

[16] European Commission. Final Report Summary– IRCOW (Innovative Strategies for High-Grade Material Recovery From Construction and Demolition Waste), Executive Summary. https://cordis.europa.eu/result/rcn/153155_en.html. 2015.

[17] Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on Resource Efficiency Opportunities in the Building Sector. COM/2014/0445 final. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/TXT/?uri=CELEX %3A52014DC0445

[18] Gálvez-Martos J.L., Styles D., Schoenberger H., Zeschmar-Lahl B. Construction and demolition waste best management practice in Europe. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 2018. ;136:166–178. ISSN 0921-3449 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2018.04.016.

[19] European Commission, Joint Research Centre. Reference Document on Best Available Techniques for Management of Tailings and Waste-Rock in Mining Activities. http://eippcb.jrc.ec.europa.eu/reference/BREF/mmr_adopted_0109.pdf. 2009. , http://www.mdpi.com/2313-4321/3/2/18/pdf Accessed 16 July 2018.

[20] European Commission, Joint Research Centre. Best Available Techniques Reference Document for the Management of Waste from the Extractive Industries in Accordance with Directive 2006/21/EC. Draft Document. http://susproc.jrc.ec.europa.eu/activities/waste/documents/MWEI_BREF_Draft.pdf. 2016.

[21] European Commission. Assessment of Member States' performance regarding the implementation of the Extractive Waste Directive; appraisal of implementation gaps and their root causes; identification of proposals to improve the implementation of the Directive. Final Report. Written by Amec Foster Wheeler Environment & Infrastructure UK Ltd, BiPRO and Milieu. 2017. ISBN 978-92-79-71767-3 http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/studies/pdf/KH-01-17-904-EN-N.pdf, https://doi.org/10.2779/278202 Accessed 11 July 2018.

[22] European Commission. Commission Staff Working Document: Report on Critical Raw Materials and the Circular Economy, Brussels, 16.1.2018., SWD(2018) 36 Final. https://ec.europa.eu/docsroom/documents/27348/attachments/1/translations/en/renditions/native.

[23] Regulation (EC) No. 2150/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2002 on waste statistics. OJ L 332, 9.12.2002, pp. 1–36. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/ALL/?uri=CELEX:32002R2150

[24] European Parliament. Boosting the use of organic and safer fertilisers in the EU. Press Release, 24-10-2017. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20171020IPR86544/boosting-the-use-of-organic-and-safer-fertilisers-in-the-eu.

[25] Friege H., Zeschmar-Lahl B., Borgmann A. Managing Cd containing waste – caught by the past, the circular economy needs new answers. Theatr. Rec. 2018;3:18. doi:10.3390/recycling3020018.

a http://data.europa.eu/eli/dir/2000/53/oj.

b http://data.europa.eu/eli/dir/2006/66/oj.

c http://data.europa.eu/eli/dir/2012/19/oj.

d http://data.europa.eu/eli/dir/1994/62/oj.

e https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:32008L0098&from=EN.

Chapter 2

Wastewater treatment as a process and a resource

M.I. Pariente; Y. Segura; R. Molina; F. Martínez    Department of Chemical and Environmental Technology, Rey Juan Carlos University, Madrid, Spain


Wastewater treatment is a dynamic and complex process used to convert wastewater into an effluent that can be safely returned to the environment or directly reused. International standards are used as references to evaluate the safety of wastewater discharge, reclamation, and reuse. Significant progress has been made in terms of developing technical approaches to producing a quality and reliable water source according to the characteristics of the wastewater and end uses. Nowadays, wastewater treatment has entered a situation defined by recognition of the need to reduce global environmental impacts and enable long-term social sustainability. It is well-established that between 50% and 100% of lost resources are in wastewater. Thus, a complete wastewater treatment system should be focused on an efficient removal of various types of contaminants with a reduction of resource consumption (energy, chemicals, etc.). Besides conventional wastewater treatment schemes, there are many alternatives to enable lower energy consumption, recovery of valuable products inherent in the wastewater (i.e., nitrogen and phosphorus), and minimizing the impact of emerging pollutants (such as pharmaceuticals or endocrine disruptor substances). There are various options for combining these new technologies with those currently installed in wastewater treatment plant facilities. It is necessary to translate conventional technologies that remove contaminants from liquid or waste concentrated streams into those that recover valuable products to be reintroduced into production systems. This chapter reviews conventional schemes for urban and industrial wastewater treatment plants, emerging technological alternatives for minimization of resources consumption and recovery of valuable products, and future trends expected to contribute to the next generation of wastewater treatment plants.


Wastewater treatment; Sludge treatment; Bioresources; Energy recovery


Water is a natural and essential resource for life. However, 97% of the world’s water resources appears as salt water in seas and oceans. Only 3% can potentially be used for human needs (domestic, agricultural, livestock, and industrial uses); and a large part of this fresh water (about 90%) is in the form of glaciers and polar caps, so it is not directly available to humans. Therefore, only 0.4% of the water resources in the world are accessible to the needs of mankind as part of aquifers, rivers, reservoirs, lakes, and the atmosphere, and < 0.01% appears as surface water. Although this number seems minimal and insufficient, it is larger than current demand and consequently water is considered a renewable resource. However, this renewable resource is threatened by its irregular distribution around the world, the growing demand from the gradual increase in population, and consequent deterioration of its quality, as a result of domestic and industrial uses. Water contamination may be classified into the following groups:

•Natural pollution: Consists of the presence of various substances in the water (solid particles, vegetable waste, animal excrements, etc.) without human intervention, due to weather and natural life. These pollutants are naturally degraded and eliminated through physical, chemical, and biological processes.

•Urban pollution: It is the result of the use of water in urban areas (housing, shops, hospitals, etc.). It is characterized by high content of fecal and food wastes and by the presence of different common chemical products (detergents, cosmetics, drugs, etc.).

•Agricultural and livestock pollution: Results from the use of water in agriculture, leading to the pollution of water with pesticides, biocides, and fertilizers. The most important contamination is due to organic wastes.

•Industrial pollution: It is the result of the use of water in industrial activities (process, cleaning, and cooling waters). It usually produces a strong effect on ecosystems, but this depends on the type of industry.

It is important to highlight that the possible numbers of compounds and polluting effects are very large. However, nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), organic matter, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and endocrine disruptors (as part of the so-called microcontaminants of emerging concern) can be considered as current major contaminants in wastewater effluents, leading to adverse effects on the environment and human health [1]:

•Nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) are mainly responsible for the eutrophication present in wastewater effluents. An excessive nutrient proliferation can lead to the stimulation of algae growth and toxic cyanobacteria bloom, which can lead to dissolved oxygen depletion, physical changes to receiving water bodies, bioaccumulation and biomagnification of contaminants, release of toxic substances, nutrient enrichment effects, and increased cost of water purification [2]. Eutrophication and global warming are the two most commonly assessed impacts in life cycle assessment (LCA) studies for wastewater treatment plants [3].

•The content of organic matter is very important in all water treatment processes, as well as for the self-purification characteristics of natural waters. Organic matter and other forms of contaminants create a breeding ground for most pathogenic organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and viruses, which are among the major health problems associated with water and wastewater. It should be pointed out that the majority of waterborne microorganisms causing human disease are from fecal wastes. Additionally, wastewater treatment plants are already identified as sources of antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) and antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) among pathogenic and nonpathogenic bacteria [4, 5]. The wastewater treatment process creates conditions that may favor horizontal gene transfer with high bacterial densities, stress caused by pollutants, such as heavy metals and antibiotics, and biofilms formed during the purification process [6].

•Micropollutants of emerging concern are a broad group of different compounds that are constantly released into the environment at low concentrations. They cover a wide range of pollutants, including pharmaceuticals, personal care products (PCPs), pesticides, persistent organic pollutants, and disinfectant by-products, among others. Once released in nature, many of these compounds are not totally or even partially eliminated in wastewater treatment plants and can be transported to places far away from the generated source. The presence of these chemicals remains a major challenge to the environment and human health. One major problem is that some of them act as endocrine disruptors (EDCs), which can alter the normal functions of hormones, resulting in a variety of health effects [7].

The quality of the water is a fundamental descriptive variable used for its environmental characterization, also necessary for hydrological planning and management. It is defined as the set of physical, chemical, and biological characteristics that make water suitable for a specific use. For each use, there are a series of requirements, which are mostly related to concentrations of the same chemical, physical, and biological principles. If the water does not meet these requirements, it is said to be unacceptable or of poor quality. It must be borne in mind that the quality of the water can be modified both by natural and anthropogenic causes. In the latter case, contamination, as discussed and generally speaking, is more serious, far-reaching, and persistent. In addition to the different parameters used to describe and quantify water quality, the properties and composition of the different types of water must be taken into account. As there are different ways to measure water quality, the assessment process consists of obtaining an appreciation of the physical, chemical, and biological nature of the water in relation to natural quality, effects on man, and ultimate use [8].

There are two main purposes of treating wastewater [9]. The first and most common is the need for safe disposal of the treated wastewater into the environment. The second goal is wastewater reuse. Apart from compulsory rules in each country, there are several national and international organizations that publish recommendations to be used as references. These are, for example, WHO (World Health Organization), FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization), and ISO (International Organization for Standardization), among others. The European Union (EU) and the United States (US) apply different regulations concerning the collection, treatment, and discharge of urban wastewater. EU legislation establishes different standards in order to protect the environment from the adverse effects of wastewater discharges [10]. Also, discharge to a surface body of water, as in waters of the United States (a legal definition), must comply with the CWA (Clean Water Act) and NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System). The water discharge permits provide for two levels of control: technology-based limits and water quality-based limits.

The reuse of treated reclaimed wastewater, as a technology, appeared during the 20th century (indications for utilization of wastewater for agricultural irrigation extend back approximately 5000 years), complying at the same time with specific regulations. EU legislation encourages water reuse through: (a) the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, which provides that treated wastewater shall be reused whenever appropriate; and (b) the Water Framework Directive, which lists water reuse as a possible measure to be included in the programs of measures for each river basin. However, EU legislation does not specify conditions for water reuse. The European Commission proposed on May 2018 new regulations on minimum requirements for water reuse [11].

Similarly, the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) gathers the federal rules and recommendations [12]; the regulatory authority falls to individual states, which have independently developed water reclamation criteria and, therefore, there are variations among the different state regulations. The first water reclamation and reuse standards were adopted by the state of California in 1918. This state has continually revised its water reuse standards and it even includes requirements for monitoring constituents of emerging concern, and limits depend on end use [13].

The quality requirements depend on the use of wastewater (discharge or reuse). Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD5), chemical oxygen demand (COD), total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and total suspended solids (TSS) are the main physicochemical parameters used in wastewater discharge regulations. Related to water reuse, microbiological parameters are also taken into account, such as E. coli, Legionella spp., fecal coliforms, and intestinal nematodes (pathogens). In the United States, chlorine contact time and residual, as well as dissolved, oxygen, pH, and temperature are also considered important parameters for water reuse.

On the other hand, knowledge gained in the last decades on the presence and effects of compounds discharged by different wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) raises the question of the appropriateness of the current approaches to evaluate water quality [14]. In recent years, an increased number of anthropogenic chemicals are being disposed and detected, increasing the evidence of adverse environmental effects. Therefore, it is important to consider new methodologies in which engineering, environmental, ecotoxicological, and microbiological expertise are taken into account to assess the overall quality of wastewater.

It is also important to stress the latest progress in analytical chemistry that has led to the development of technologies that enable detection of contaminants of emerging concern in the trace range. The large presence of those and other contaminants in water samples and their toxicological relevance emphasize the need for bioanalytical assessment to complement the analysis [15]. The toxicological impact of substances is mainly dependent on concentration, bioavailability, duration of exposure, critical windows of exposure, and species-specific sensitivity [16].

In this context, chemical approaches should include target, nontargeted and suspect analyses, identification of transformation products, modeling, as well as toxicity identification evaluation. Similarly, water quality assessment methods, including in vitro or in vivo assays, have been developed to detect ecotoxicological effects on a variety of endpoints and trophic levels [17–19].

Processes of wastewater treatment plant

The configuration of a WWTP is highly dependent on the characteristics of the wastewater and the desirable quality of the final effluent. Conditioning and distribution of water for residential, commercial, and industrial uses is necessary in all human communities. Although urban wastewater treatment is a well-established practice, water treatment is nowadays subject to multiple changes. Application of more restrictive limitations on the quality of the effluents and the potential use of those effluents as water sources for industry, agriculture, and urban uses have opened new topics and perspectives that will lead research in future years [20].

Sewage treatment refers to the processing of primarily domestic wastewater produced by typical community and household activities. The flow of sewage to be treated may approximate the flow of municipal water supplied to the community, being in the range of about 380 L/day per capita in rural areas, to 570 L/day in urban areas with industrial uses [20], although losses due to infiltration and poor state of pipelines must be taken into account. Table 2.1 shows the typical composition of a domestic wastewater. The main contaminants to be removed are biodegradable organics (BOD5/COD > 0.4), that correspond with a high percentage of volatile solids (60%–70% of the total solids). Pathogen and salts concentrations are usually high, the latter being measured as dissolved solids (70% of the total solids) [20].

Table 2.1

Abbreviations: COD, chemical oxygen demand; BOD, biochemical oxygen demand; TKN, total Kjeldahl nitrogen; TP, total phosphorus; TS, total solids; TDS, total dissolved solids; TSS, total suspended solids.

(Based on X. Yan, C. Zhu, B. Huang Q. Yan, Q. Zhang, Enhanced nitrogen removal from electroplanting tail wastewater through two-staged anoxic-oxic (A/O) process, Bioresour. Technol. 247 (2018) 157–164; F.M. Kemmer, The Nalco Water Handbook. McGraw-Hill Inc, USA, 1987; G. Tchobanoglous, F.L. Burton, H.D. Stensel, Wastewater Engineering: Treatment and Reuse. 4th ed., McGraw-Hill. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., New York, 2003.)

WWTPs include many logically arranged and separated physical, chemical, and biological processes [21], which are joined in primary, secondary, and tertiary treatments (Fig. 2.1). Physical/chemical treatments cover a variety of processes aiming at the removal of different pollutants producing an effluent that could be appropriately treated in the following steps, commonly through biological processes. Biological treatment is the succeeding method after physical/chemical treatment to lower high levels of BOD, COD, and organic matter. These processes have the production of sludge as a common by-product that should be treated and dewatered for subsequent disposal or reutilization.

Fig. 2.1 General scheme of an urban wastewater treatment plant.

The possible treatment steps, modifications, and operational conditions that can be applied vary considerably [22–24]. Table 2.2 shows many treatment processes that can be used in WWTPs, according to the target pollutant. Current applications vary greatly, with some of them being more intensively applied over others that are still under development or in the proof-of-concept stage. Nevertheless, WWTP configurations are under continuous improvement and some of the processes are becoming more important in addressing a sustainable and environmentally favorable depuration.

Table 2.2

(Based on W. Rulkens, Increasing significance of advanced physical/chemical processes in the development and application of sustainable wastewater treatment systems, Front. Environ. Sci. Eng. China 2 (4) (2008) 385–396.)

Primary treatment

The primary process is the first step in the municipal sewage treatment plant. The techniques included in the primary process are designed to reduce the suspended and floating solids in the wastewater by either mechanical devices or gravity action. Filters and static and moving screens block floating bulky debris that could clog further pipes or pumps in the WWTP. Grit chambers slow down the flow, allowing the settling of sand and similar fine solids. The remaining grease and oil, responsible for odor, are normally removed in skimming tanks. Additionally, natural settling of suspended solids can be enhanced by the addition of chemicals in coagulation and flocculation tanks [25]. Finally, the wastewater goes to the primary settling tank (clarifier or sedimentation tank), where about 98% of settable solids, 60%–80% suspended solids, and 30%–50% of oxygen demand can be removed from the wastewater in the form of primary sludge

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