Environmental performance of wastewater treatment plants for small populations

Alejandro Gallego Schmid, Almudena Hospido, Maria Teresa Moreira, Gumersindo Feijoo

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Life cycle assessment (LCA) is an environmental tool which allows the calculation of all the environmental loads related to a process/product/service. In the present work, LCA was applied to analyze the environmental impact of different technologies for wastewater treatment in small populations. In this study, 13 wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) of less than 20,000 population equivalent (p.e.) located in Galicia (NW Spain) were inventoried. The results of the evaluation of the environmental impact are expressed in terms of diverse impact categories. Normalization identified eutrophication, mainly as P-PO4 3-, N-NH4 + and organic load as chemical oxygen demand (COD) in the treated effluent, and terrestrial ecotoxicity, due to the heavy metals content in the sludge, as the most significant categories for all WWTPs. Electricity use plays an important role in five of seven impact categories and presents the highest importance in four of them. When comparing technologies, secondary treatment technologies such as biodenipho and aerobic-anoxic treatment resulted in a lesser environmental impact than extended aeration. The operation of the plants has large contribution on the impact, especially for those that make use of extended aeration.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)931-940
    Number of pages10
    JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008


    • Electricity use
    • Eutrophication
    • LCA
    • Life cycle assessment
    • Terrestrial ecotoxicity
    • Wastewater treatment plants


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