On-site sanitation systems - An integrated assessment of treatment efficiency and sustainability

Abstract: Small on-site sanitation systems for wastewater collection and treatment are prevalent in suburban and rural areas in many countries. However, these systems often underperform, causing potential impact to the receiving waters and increasing the risks to public health, thus hindering the overall sustainability of the systems. Understanding the different sustainability dimensions and trade-offs between assessment indicators can support the planning of sustainable on-site sanitation systems for a specific context. The overall aim of this thesis was to evaluate the sustainability and function of on-site sanitation systems by defining a set of indicators to assess on-site sanitation options and estimating them for different scenarios, and by investigating the treatment efficiency of on-site facilities for domestic wastewater treatment in a field study. Particular attention was given to the removal of phosphorus (P) and indicator bacteria due to their relevance in terms of eutrophication risk and public-health concern.In a multi-criteria approach, twelve indicators were defined to assess nine on-site sanitation systems. A reference group representing stakeholders’ views assigned weights to express the relative importance of each indicator. The reference group assigned the highest weights to the indicators robustness, risk of pathogen discharge and nutrient removal. Assessing the robustness proved to be challenging, as there is a gap between how the sanitation systems are expected to perform based on their design, and how they actually perform in practice, mainly due to incorrect construction, operation and maintenance. The discriminating power of the indicators was calculated using the entropy method, which showed that the indicators energy recovery and capital cost had little impact in the final ranking of the alternatives. A sustainability ranking was obtained by using the method ELECTRE III. A scenario analysis based on different settings of interest based on socio-economic and geographical factors was done to evaluate the changes in the ranking of alternatives. Overall, the greywater–blackwater separation system ranked the highest in the baseline scenario and when nutrient-related indicators were important (Scenario 2), together with the urine diversion system. The sand filter and drain field were the most sustainable options when nutrient removal and recycling was not important (Scenario 1), and (in combination with chemical P-removal) when the indicators related to energy and climate change had the highest weights (Scenario 3). In terms of P-removal, chemical removal outranked the alkaline P-filter.In a field study, the effluent wastewater from twelve on-site wastewater treatment facilities with sand and alkaline P-filters was evaluated in terms of removal and discharge of organic content, total and dissolved phosphorus, and indicator bacteria (E. coli, total coliforms, intestinal enterococci and C.perfringens). The results showed that the investigated sand filters generally had low P-removal capacity and sometimes exceeded the criteria for excellent water quality set by the EU bathing water directive with regard to intestinal enterococci and E. coli. Only one sand filter of eight was confirmed to remove P according to the Swedish guidelines for areas with non-sensitive receiving waters with a tot-P effluent concentration below 3 mg L−1. This indicates that a downstream treatment step is needed to meet the guidelines regarding P discharge concentrations. Alkaline P-filters generally removed P efficiently. Despite high effluent pH, the collected data did not generally confirm a further reduction of the bacterial content of the wastewater in the P-filters, as had been previously hypothesized. However, effluent concentrations of indicator bacteria showed moderate positive correlations with effluent concentrations of P and organic matter, indicating the potential of the P-filters to serve as a polishing step also for bacteria.