Main content area

Life Cycle Assessment of wastewater treatment systems for small communities: Activated sludge, constructed wetlands and high rate algal ponds

Garfí, Marianna, Flores, Laura, Ferrer, Ivet
Journal of cleaner production 2017 v.161 pp. 211-219
activated sludge, algae, computer software, constructed wetlands, economic evaluation, electricity, energy resources, environmental impact, life cycle assessment, ponds, wastewater treatment
The aim of this study was to assess the environmental impact of three alternatives for wastewater treatment in small communities. To this end, a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was carried out comparing a conventional wastewater treatment plant (i.e. activated sludge system) with two nature-based technologies (i.e. hybrid constructed wetland and high rate algal pond systems). Moreover, an economic evaluation was also addressed. All systems served a population equivalent of 1500 p.e. The functional unit was 1 m³ of water. System boundaries comprised input and output flows of material and energy resources for system construction and operation. The LCA was performed with the software SimaPro®8, using the ReCiPe midpoint method. The results showed that the nature-based solutions were the most environmentally friendly alternatives, while the conventional wastewater treatment plant presented the worst results due to the high electricity and chemicals consumption. Specifically, the potential environmental impact of the conventional wastewater treatment plant was between 2 and 5 times higher than that generated by the nature-based systems depending on the impact category. Even though constructed wetland and high rate algal pond systems presented similar results in terms of environmental impact, the latter showed to be the less expensive alternative. Nevertheless, the constructed wetland system should be preferred when land occupation is of major concern, since it has a smaller footprint compared to the high rate algal pond alternative.