There is a great deal of research and development going into improvements in existing technologies and exploring new ways of achieving desalination. Low-temperature thermal desalination and thermionic technologies are both promising. Many low-tech, homemade, or small-scale systems have been invented and are in use around the world at a residential scale. Small desalinators typically work by slowly processing water, which is then stored for use. A storage tank is therefore an integral part of the system.
The development of modern wastewater systems has been based on only one objective: ensure that the user doesn’t have to think about wastewater. It is an issue we collectively haven’t wanted to consider. However, dealing properly with wastewater is a critical part of creating a sustainable building, and any home built to the status quo in this regard is contributing to environmental issues including water resource depletion, surface, groundwater and soil contamination, and high costs for municipalities and homeowners.
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Our watersheds are contaminated, unfit for drinking and even swimming because of the mismanagement of our wastewater. Drinking water sources, crops, and soils can similarly be rendered toxic. Wastewater treatment typically represents 15-35% of the overall budget of municipal governments, and many municipalities are facing issues with aging sewer infrastructure that will require larger infusions of capital expenditures.
The very concept of “waste” water is at the root of this issue. The majority of what goes down our drains need not be considered waste. Certainly, the water itself should not be considered waste; it is one of our most valuable resources.
The regulatory framework for dealing with wastewater is the most restrictive and prescriptive aspect of most codes, and many homeowners are thus dissuaded from attempting to employ more sustainable strategies. The impetus for these regulations is understandable: a desire to minimize the harm caused by improper wastewater disposal and/or inadequate treatment. Unfortunately, many of the accepted solutions in current codes reinforce practices that are responsible for much of this harm, and discourage the use of alternative solutions that attempt to address these issues.
There are signs of positive change in this area. Rainwater catchment, greywater recycling, and composting toilets are beginning to find acceptance in some codes, and it is likely that the majority of codes will follow in the next decade or two.