Israel is a leader in the use of reclaimed water for agriculture. With investments of more than $700 million over the past 20 years, wastewater reclamation has provided Israel with an avenue to stimulate economic growth while strengthening the country’s resilience to extreme drought conditions caused by climate change. However, there is a gap in water management: in our linear economy model, with the take-use-discharge approach, we obtain water from groundwater, rainfall, or any other source for use in agriculture, industry, or households. Water scarcity is knocking on the door of southern Europe and is related to both water quantity and water quality.
This wastewater is not exactly waste as such, but includes nutrients and has received advanced treatment. We ingest food and we defecate it, but as our food has nutrients in it, so does our feces. Agriculture requires not only water but also fertilizers, so by irrigating with treated wastewater, we solve the problem twice: water and nutrients. This is one of the solutions of the circular economy.
In the future, the word 'waste' may no longer exist in the dictionary. In the circular economy that will take hold in the coming decades, we can think of cities with vertical green gardens that produce food, treat wastewater, and use reclaimed water to irrigate their own plants. Cities will produce food from their own resources.
Technologically it is already possible, as scientists, together with industry and the public sector, are developing pilot programs in these systems. The FIT4REUSE and HYDROUSA projects are developing a case study on the Greek island of Lesvos where the system recovers fertilizer, biogas, and reclaimed water for irrigation from the municipality’s wastewater.
At the political level, in southern Europe, where water is a challenge, national regulations have already been put in place: this has been the case in Spain since 2007 and in Greece since 2011. Since last year, the EU Regulation 2020/741 on water reuse for irrigation – and its minimum requirements – has been adopted, and it is expected to be implemented as early as June 2023. In this regard, the SUWANU project offers a free module in English, Spanish, French, Italian, and five other languages with the strategic plans and the new EU regulation.
But is our society ready to eat food grown with human manure? People today often develop a psychological barrier – a sense of disgust – for the emotion of disgust associated with the water source. The challenges for more effective water management are largely social. The ‘disgust factor’ needs to be addressed to promote understanding between different stakeholders.
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