How to take action against ocean pollution from wastewater and sewage

I moderated an important session on “How to take action against ocean pollution from wastewater and sewage” at Economist Impact’s recent World Ocean Summit in Lisbon.

More than 80% of the world’s wastewater is released into the environment without treatment, harming people and aquatic habitats. At the same time, more than 40% of the global population lacks access to safely managed sanitation services. In addition to being a serious public health issue, pollution from sewage and wastewater affects many industries that rely on the ocean, including tourism, fishing and offshore aquaculture, while contributing to coral damage and nature loss. This session discussed how to move from traditional solutions to intersection and circularity in addressing sewage and wastewater pollution. It also explored how to raise awareness of the many harms that sewage and wastewater cause to the ocean and to public health. Participants also discovered new ways to take action against ocean pollution from sewage and wastewater.

Panellists included:

• Folayinka Dania, chief resilience officer, Lagos

• Amelia Wenger, conservation scientist and water pollution program lead, Wildlife Conservation Society

• Alberto Pierotti, vice-president engineering, Running Tide

• Jasmine Fournier, executive director, Ocean Sewage Alliance 

Key takeaways:

🌊 Global sanitation crisis: multi-sector, multidisciplinary; cannot be tackled by only one sector

🌊 Integrated conservation and sanitation approaches offer lots of co-benefits

🌊 Focus on the source (human, animal; pharmaceutical, chemicals; urban, land  etc)

🌊 Understand climate change links (e.g. water level rising, overflowing sewers)

🌊 A circular approach is needed (cleaning and reusing water; currently: diluting)

🌊 Small-scale sludge-making systems could work (vs giant treatment plants), but they are currently not cost-effective

🌊 Appreciate the cost of inaction: human health, corals/coastal erosion, aquaculture contamination, antimicrobials

🌊 Appreciate the benefits of action: ecosystem restoration, CDR, co-benefits for markets

🌊 The need for a social contract with local communities: can help to get to solutions faster

🌊 Education still needed: e.g. on benefits of nature-based solutions and innovative approaches like beers using recycled wastewater

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