Global Challenges Academy

Sustainable decentralised wastewater treatment

Sustainable Decentralised Wastewater Treatment in Southeast Asia

  • Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Partnered with: Universiti Teknologi Malaysia; Indah Water Konsortium; Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water, Malaysia; Ministry of Health, Malaysia
  • Region: Southeast Asia

Water quality in suburban and rural environments across Southeast Asia is generally poor, primarily due to inadequate local-scale wastewater treatment. 25% of Malaysians live in rural and semi-rural areas with most only having septic tanks or less for their wastewater.

How we are meeting this challenge

  • Newcastle University has developed a promising new technology for rural wastewater treatment applications (Denitrifying Downflow Hanging-Sponge reactors; DDHS), which is being pilot-tested with the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.
  • They are training early career researchers in academia and industry in Malaysia on molecular methods for comparing different wastewater treatment options.
  • Skills learned from the training will be built upon by performing one year of monitoring on eight wastewater treatment systems and water supplies.
  • A decision support tool will be developed for water companies and Ministries in Malaysia to guide industry and government decisions aimed at improving wastewater treatment, water quality and health in rural areas.
sustainable wastewater Malaysia

Who will benefit

There is an urgent need to develop better decentralised waste treatment options to improve water quality and community health across Southeast Asia. Research led by Professor David Graham at Newcastle University and Dr Zainura Zainon Noor at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, working with partners in industry and government, are testing different sustainable options for wastewater treatment in Malaysia. The project is guided by a ‘One Health’ approach to improve Southeast Asian rural community health by improving environmental quality through more reliable wastewater treatment.

Early career researchers who participated in the project’s skills workshop were trained in health surveillance and technologies for decentralising wastewater treatment. Those skills are now used to study different wastewater treatment options, and also assess local surface water quality to understand how community health could be improved by different wastewater treatment options.

The performance of three types of waste water treatment technologies are being compared, including septic tanks, activated sludge and DDHS systems, along with implications for local water quality.

DDHS has been shown to reduce antibiotic resistant bacteria and genes by up to 98% and reduce nitrogen pollution by 70%. It is being compared with other wastewater treatment options to quantify its relative effectiveness and determine whether other options should be promoted for wider use in Malaysia and across Southeast Asia.

The integrated approach to health and wastewater treatment is useful to environmental and health ministries in Malaysia. The decision tool developed by the project will assist them in taking appropriate actions to understand the beneficial impacts of wastewater treatment on community health.

Project team

  • Professor David Graham, Newcastle University
  • Dr Zainura Zainon Noor, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
  • Dr Michaela Goodson, Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia
  • Dr Azmi Aris, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
  • Indah Water Konsortium
  • Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water, Malaysia
  • Ministry of Health, Malaysia
  • Northumbrian Water Ltd

Let's work together

If you're interested in working with us on a future research project, or would like to collaborate, email us today: