Since the year 2000, the world population has grown by over 1 billion to currently 7.3 billion people. During the same period, the global water demand has increased by approximately 20 %. The situation is exacerbated by the further increase of the global water demand of an additional 55 % projected by the year 2050 and the resulting rise in conflicts over utilization.
Excessive exploitation of global water resources is already impacting the earth’s appearance. The water shortage has consequences not only for individuals, the ecosystems and economic development. An inadequate basic water supply is additionally a factor that can weaken the stability of political systems. For the year 2050, 40 % of the world population is expected to be living in regions with water stress.
Intact ecosystems constitute refuges for man and nature and guarantee the long-term availability of water. The appreciation of ecosystem services as well as the methods for determining the water demand of the ecosystems has recently been subject to a significant shift. A methodologically consistent, current and comprehensive description of the status of the global water resources and the associated ecosystems is, therefore, a central prerequisite for substantiated regional and global objectives. Without a secure water supply and efficient wastewater disposal, successful poverty reduction, societal prosperity, healthy economic growth and efficient environmental protection are not possible.
Water shortage and lack of basic sanitation
Nevertheless, approximately 1.2 billion people worldwide are still threatened by an extreme water shortage and roughly 748 million people have no access to clean drinking water. More than twice as high, with 2.5 billion, is the number of those, who must live without basic sanitation – i.e. they have neither a toilet, nor a connection to the wastewater disposal system. The resulting consequences for the people affected as well as for the economic and ecological development of their home countries parallel a “silent tragedy”.
Cities in the so called developing countries are particularly affected, since the water consumption as well as the degree of pollution respectively the resulting wastewater in a relatively small space is particularly high. Adequate infrastructures for wastewater disposal and treatment are frequently lacking, so, for the most part, only contaminated water is available to the residents of these cities. The obvious implication is that a reliable drinking water supply can only be realized in combination with efficient wastewater disposal.
The contamination of the water by medications, nitrate and microplastic is currently receiving a lot of media attention. What challenges have there been so far, are there currently and will there be in the future when it comes to ensuring clean water?
To date, it was mainly the insufficient analytical methods, which told us little to nothing about the actual degree of contamination. With the three-stage development of the municipal sewage treatment plants (mechanical, biological and chemical), it was thought that the contaminants could be conquered. However, today it is clear that there are many more factors to be considered. The improved analytics prove that. It is not only the substances with high concentrations (e.g. phosphates) which have to be removed in the sewage treatment plants in order to contain the eutrophication (upsetting the balance of the waters), but also the trace substances, the smallest quantities, which are causing more and more problems, because they are often more toxic and dangerous.
Currently, it seems that there is virtually no water shortage in most industrial countries, that the hygienic conditions are excellent and that the industries do what the state imposes in the area of water conservation and purification. A voluntary commitment to protect the environment hardly exists and it does not look as though the state will increase the pressure here in the next ten years. Unless the stresses increase in such a way that the implications for the ecosystem affect the people. In the developing countries of the world, this is completely different, however, here the “but” always comes into play, which so slows down action that people suffer.
In the course of the R&D work for Wasser 3.0, we have developed a solution for microplastic, which already works very well on a laboratory scale as well as semi-continuously and could represent a quick solution for the microplastic problem in a new procedure if the sponsors play along.
Especially when washing clothing made of synthetic materials, fibers are detached from the fabric and thus enter the water system via the wastewater treatment plant and consequently come back to us very quickly.
We of Wasser 3.0 do not work with standard filter technology in our procedure, since we believe that it is not a question of filtration, but of elimination. The filter technology has clearly known limiting factors for the smallest components, so the particles can pass through.
The holistic solution is important to us. In concrete terms, this means that we, once we can, hopefully soon, implement our procedure with our partners, not only want to eliminate the microplastic particles, but also simultaneously tackle multiple stressors in combination. The approach is simple: With good chemistry and a promising method, the water can be purified in every process, no matter whether in communal treatment plants (fourth purification stage) or in an industrial production process, and in such a way that it does not disturb the ecosystem upon exiting the plant. For this reason, we are examining the purification process from A to Z. The holistic nature and broad perspective in all areas is what makes Wasser 3.0 special!