July 12, 2010 — Australia sends a lot of ships, laden with iron ore, to Japan. Then the ships head back to Australia, carrying seawater as ballast. Australia is a dry country, in dire need of fresh water. Japan currently discharges almost all of its treated sewage, which started as fresh water, into the sea. Do you see where we’re going here? Read this article in Asahi Shimbun, which describes how and why Japan may soon be selling its treated sewage to Australia, for use in those iron-ore operations (and replacing the use of fresh water expensively derived from sea water).
This is a pilot project, and I’m sure there will be some kinks to work out, but I believe we’re going to be seeing a lot more of this water reuse and recycling in the future. (Transporting water, which is heavy, ain’t cheap: but in this case waste water is replacing sea water on a ship that’s got to get back to Australia anyway.) Fresh water is a precious and finite resource. Yes, it recycles and cleans itself as it moves from one physical state to another, but with more and more people on the planet, polluting water faster than we or Mom Earth can clean it, there’s less of the stuff to go around. Why discharge expensively treated wastewater into the ocean when it can be used yet again in industry or — depending on its level of treatment — for agriculture or human consumption? (For that matter, why use expensively treated drinking water merely to flush away human waste?) To see how Orange County, California, cleans its waste water to a level fit for drinking, check out my article in the New York Times Magazine.)