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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle

Human Health, Economic and Environmental Assessment of Onsite Non-Potable Water Reuse Systems for a Large, Mixed-Use Urban Building

1
Eastern Research Group, Lexington, MA 02421, USA
2
Soller Environmental, Berkeley, CA 94703, USA
3
United States Environmental Protection Agency, Center for Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response, Cincinnati, OH 45268, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2020, 12(13), 5459; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12135459
Received: 10 June 2020 / Revised: 26 June 2020 / Accepted: 30 June 2020 / Published: 7 July 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Wastewater Treatments and Reuse)
Onsite non-potable reuse (NPR) is being increasingly considered as a viable option to address water scarcity and infrastructure challenges, particularly at the building scale. However, there are a range of possible treatment technologies, source water options, and treatment system sizes, each with its unique costs and benefits. While demonstration projects are proving that these systems can be technologically feasible and protective of public health, little guidance exists for identifying systems that balance public health protection with environmental and economic performance. This study uses quantitative microbial risk assessment, life cycle assessment and life cycle cost analysis to characterize the human health, environmental and economic aspects of onsite NPR systems. Treatment trains for both mixed wastewater and source-separated graywater were modeled using a core biological process—an aerobic membrane bioreactor (AeMBR), an anaerobic membrane bioreactor (AnMBR) or recirculating vertical flow wetland (RVFW)—and additional treatment and disinfection unit processes sufficient to meet current health-based NPR guidelines. Results show that the graywater AeMBR system designed to provide 100% of onsite non-potable demand results in the lowest impacts across most environmental and human health metrics considered but costs more than the mixed-wastewater version due to the need for a separate collection system. The use of multiple metrics also allows for identification of weaknesses in systems that lead to burden shifting. For example, although the RVFW process requires less energy than the AeMBR process, the RVFW system is more environmentally impactful and costly when considering the additional unit processes required to protect human health. Similarly, we show that incorporation of thermal recovery units to reduce hot water energy consumption can offset some environmental impacts but result in increases to others, including cumulative energy demand. Results demonstrate the need for additional data on the pathogen treatment performance of NPR systems to inform NPR health guidance. View Full-Text
Keywords: non-potable reuse; decentralized treatment; life cycle assessment; life cycle cost assessment; quantitative microbial risk assessment; membrane bioreactor non-potable reuse; decentralized treatment; life cycle assessment; life cycle cost assessment; quantitative microbial risk assessment; membrane bioreactor
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Arden, S.; Morelli, B.; Schoen, M.; Cashman, S.; Jahne, M.; Ma, X.C.; Garland, J. Human Health, Economic and Environmental Assessment of Onsite Non-Potable Water Reuse Systems for a Large, Mixed-Use Urban Building. Sustainability 2020, 12, 5459.

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