Managing the water-energy-nutrient nexus for the built environment requires, in part, a full system analysis of energy consumption, global warming and eutrophication potentials of municipal water services. As an example, we evaluated the life cycle energy use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and aqueous nutrient releases of the whole anthropogenic municipal water cycle starting from raw water extraction to wastewater treatment and reuse/discharge for five municipal water and wastewater systems. The assessed options included conventional centralized services and four alternative options following the principles of source-separation and water fit-for-purpose. The comparative life cycle assessment identified that centralized drinking water supply coupled with blackwater energy recovery and on-site greywater treatment and reuse was the most energy- and carbon-efficient water service system evaluated, while the conventional (drinking water and sewerage) centralized system ranked as the most energy- and carbon-intensive system. The electricity generated from blackwater and food residuals co-digestion was estimated to offset at least 40% of life cycle energy consumption for water/waste services. The dry composting toilet option demonstrated the lowest life cycle eutrophication potential. The nutrients in wastewater effluent are the dominating contributors for the eutrophication potential for the assessed system configurations. Among the parameters for which variability and sensitivity were evaluated, the carbon intensity of the local electricity grid and the efficiency of electricity production by the co-digestion with the energy recovery process were the most important for determining the relative global warming potential results.
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