NEWater for a NEWorld

Araneta, A. Cruz, Encarnacion, Enriquez, Fucio, Sanchez, Sol Cruz

       Considering the number of people in the world today, it would be foolish to think that we can still live like we used to. We are too careless with how we handle our resources and it is doing us harm. Our mindset regarding how we manipulate our natural resources should change if we want to prolong our stay in this planet. This is our planet and it is, as far as we know, the only planet capable of harboring life. Knowing this, shouldn’t we take the responsibility of taking care of it to heart? In light of responsible stewardship, our group has decided to share technologies, movements, and practices that promote using water sustainably.

       One of the foremost solutions to safeguarding one of Earth’s most important resources is to reuse, but there lies the problem of how and why. How can we reuse water once it has already been used and why would we want to? The answer is quite simple: we are running out of clean water. As an example for the main discussion in this blog, we would like to focus on NEWater as our model for sustainable development.

NEWater

“LRT not so fast, NEWater they laugh at us. I live in Singapura, it’s not perfect living but at least it’s interesting.”

2:52 from I Live in Singapura

       NEWater is essentially wastewater made drinkable. What? Yeah it’s wastewater made drinkable, that includes sewage water which are made up mostly of feces, urine, and toilet water.  Wastewater becomes NEWater only after it goes through four stages of purification. First, it is treated in conventional Water Reclamation Plants like how typical wastewater is handled. In the second stage, water is treated via microfiltration and ultrafiltration. What’s left after this stage is water containing dissolved salts and organic molecules; solids have been removed and only some of the viruses and bacteria remain. After this, for the third stage water is treated through reverse osmosis wherein contaminants are further removed. At this point the water already meets USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) and WHO (World Health Organization) requirements and is already drinkable. But before it becomes NEWater it has to go through the fourth stage where it undergoes UV disinfection to ensure that all organisms are deactivated. Alkaline chemicals are added after this to restore the pH balance and thus NEWater is ready for Singapore use. (see illustration below)

NEWater

NEWater Process

       The first NEWater factory was completed in May 2000 but it was actually an idea shelved since 1974 when they considered that the current technology then were not sufficient to create a plan to produce potable water from wastewater. The quality of membranes produced before did not purify the water effectively and the costs were too excessive. But even before shelving it was developed for 2 years, the idea being born during 1972. This just goes to show how much planning can be made and how it can be realized if we put effort into it.

       It is easy to see how their lack of clean and drinkable water resources enticed Singapore to look into solutions such as NEWater which currently responding to the 30% of the nation’s water demands. Then again, we cannot be so sure that everyone else in the world won’t be running out of water soon and will need to resort to their own NEWater. In the future this could be a viable solution for everyone in the world–why not, right? It turns wastewater to drinkable water and that’s very practical.

       NEWater may be innovative and all but it also has its shortcomings. The long purification process is costly and the price of NEWater is not economical. The government tap water or imported water from Malaysia are cheaper, thus only few of the public would avail of this alternative drinking source. In addition to the cost, many Singaporeans still refuse to drink NEWater because of the sheer notion of where it was from. Despite the statistics that exceed the standards for normal drinking water, it still is not considered as potable water by the general public. It comes down to a matter of acceptance. However, once they warm up to NEWater for drinking, it can do a lot of good to Singapore and its economy as it will ease its dependence on imported water from Malaysia.

NEWater could possibly revive the river of our dreams

NEWater could possibly revive the river of our dreams

       If the resources and financial support from the government were sufficient, countries like the Philippines (i.e. countries that have polluted waterways and improper waste management, and are heavily affected by seasonal typhoons) could very well make use of such an innovative technology. Putting it in the Philippine context, NEWater would provide ways to purify and reuse dirty water from the sewage system that would otherwise cause major flooding in the metro during typhoon season. Furthermore, landmark bodies of water such as the Pasig River have long been polluted and absolutely inconsumable for that very reason. Reusable water technology such as NEWater could perhaps restore these polluted  bodies of water to their former pristine glory days (and if only our fellow countrymen would be more responsible with their waste disposal habits as well!) while at the same time, providing a large source of waste water to be purified and distributed to those in need. The demands for good quality drinking water during times of calamity could be easily addressed as well, giving much comfort and support to those who have been affected and are in dire need of supplies.

       On a much larger scale, innovative technologies like NEWater might just mean more than reusing water. If properly developed, this type of new wave technologies could possibly eliminate possible cases of extreme dehydration or instances where contaminated water is consumed due to the lack of potable sources. This can consequently eliminate waterborne diseases and low mortality especially in children. Moreover, this method of water-recycling not only fixes the problem of heavily-polluted water sources but it also feasibly lessens future extraction of natural sources in the aim of fulfilling the need for clean water, which in the long-run contributes to our desire of ensuring environmental sustainability. This, together with a probable decrease in diseases and child deaths, are three of the United Nations Millenium Development Goals. With sufficient research and support, it is not impossible that technological breakthroughs like NEWater might just be our ticket to a better future: initially for two years (in time for the 2015 UNDG deadline) and hopefully for a longer-run of more environmental–and economic–sustainable advancements for our present society.

       To conclude, NEWater could be seen as something beyond a water-recycling technology. More than its practical uses, it could be seen as a metaphorical reuse of our natural resources. For a long time, people thought that water will come infinitely, that water, unlike fossil fuel, will never run out. Now that people have come to realize that there is a possibility of us waking up to a future without water, science was able to give birth to this preventive measure named NEWater. With further technological studies, we might as well see that more than reusing water to prevent our world from “drying up,” now is the time to start preserving and conserving what we still have. Past the idea of purifying sewage water for drinking purposes, NEWater would hopefully make us see the need for further scientific advancements dedicated for ensuring environmental sustainability. NEWater could help us see science as our avenue towards a better future. Technologies of this kind would lead us to a technologically-advanced yet environmentally-friendly society, and eventually, to a sustainable NEWorld.

Sources:

http://www.pub.gov.sg/E-Services/NEWater/Pages/NEWaterUsedinIndustrialandCommercial.aspx

http://www.pub.gov.sg/about/historyfuture/Pages/NEWater.aspx

http://alltimesigaporepreciouswater.blogspot.com/2013/03/tap-3-newater_23.html

http://x3pureelement.blogspot.com/2010/05/newaterpros-and-cons.html

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