Comparative life cycle sustainability assessment of urban water reuse at various centralization scales
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Population growth and urbanization lead to increasing water demand, putting significant pressure on natural water sources. The rising amounts of domestic wastewater (WW) in urban areas may be treated to serve as an alternative water source that may alleviate this pressure. This study examines sustainability of utilizing reclaimed domestic wastewater in urban households for toilet flushing and garden irrigation. It models a city characterized by water scarcity, using a coal-based electricity mix.
Four approaches were compared: (0) Business-as-usual (BAU) alternative, where the central WW treatment plant effluent is discharged to nature; (1) central WW treatment and urban reuse of the effluent produced; (2) semi-distributed greywater treatment and reuse, at cluster scale; (3) Distributed greywater treatment and reuse, at building scale. Environmental life cycle assessment (LCA), social LCA (S-LCA), and life cycle costing (LCC) were applied to the system model of the above scenarios, with seawater desalination as the source for potable water. System boundaries include water supply, WW collection, and treatment facilities. Analytical hierarchy process (AHP), a multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) methodology, was integrated into the life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA) framework as a means for weighting sustainability criteria through judgment elicitation from a panel of 20 experts.
Results and discussion
Environmentally and socially, the two distributed alternatives perform better in most impact categories. Socially, semi-distributed (cluster scale) reuse is somewhat advantageous over the fully distributed alternative (building scale), due to the benefits of community engagement. Economically, the cluster-level scenario is the most preferable, while the building-scale scenario is the least preferable. A hierarchical representation of the problem’s criteria was constructed, according to the principals of AHP. Each criterion was weighted and those of extreme low importance were eliminated, while maintaining the integrity of the experts’ judgments. Weighted and aggregated sustainability scores revealed that cluster level reclamation, under modeled conditions, is the most sustainable option and the BAU scenario is the least sustainable. The other two alternatives, centralized and fully distributed reclamation, obtained similar intermediate scores.
Distributed urban water reuse was found to be more sustainable than current practice. Different alternative solutions are advantageous in different ways, but overall, the reclamation and reuse of greywater at the cluster level seems to be the best option among the three reuse options examined in this assessment. AHP proved an effective method for aggregating the multiple sustainability criteria. The hierarchical view maintains transparency of all local weights while leading to the final weight vector.
KeywordsAHP Clustering Distributed reuse Greywater LCA LCSA MCDA Non-potable S-LCA Wastewater
Analytical hierarchy process
Business as usual
End of life
Life cycle assessment
Life cycle costing
Life cycle sustainability assessment
Life cycle thinking
Multi-criteria decision analysis
Operation and maintenance
Rotating biological contactor
Social life cycle assessment
Sea water desalination
Wastewater treatment plant
We are very grateful to the anonymous experts who took part in this study, contributing their time and expertise.
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