Is Reusing Waste Water Really "Toilet to Tap?"

Jeffrey Fulgham was appointed Chief Sustainability Officer and Ecomagination Leader in April, 2010. He is responsible for leading the division’s sustainability initiative. As chief sustainability officer and ecomagination leader, he provides leadership for the company’s Ecomagination program, water reuse and reduction initiatives, and the Water for Humanity program.

A 27-year veteran in the water industry, Fulgham began his career in 1981 in industrial water treatment chemical sales at Nalco. In 1989, he joined Betz Laboratories, Inc. as a field salesman in the Power Division and was promoted to Corporate Sales Manager for Power Generation in 1994. From 1998 to 2002, he held positions of increasing responsibility within the commercial and corporate sales organizations until the company was acquired by GE Water & Process Technologies. Since that date of acquisition, he has a variety of senior leadership roles in global marketing.

Fulgham has been a key speaker at numerous industry events, including UN International Water Conference, Goldman Sachs Global Water Conference, US-India Business Council for Green India, NASA Environmental & Energy Conference, and Executive Energy Forum.

  • Transcript


Question: What is a solution to meeting water demands?

Jeffrey Fulgham: The future really is, one of the major solutions for our future water challenge is going to be reuse of water. And, you know, there’s often a negative connotation to that, people think, oh, toilet to tap, we’ve heard flush to brush, shower to flower, so a lot of different thoughts. But really, the beauty of waste water reuse is we can actually purify that waste water way beyond the quality needed for drinking water. And in fact, it’s a nice, consistent, high quality water. You know, people don’t have much issue with desalination, to be able to take seawater and make drinking water and actually waste water is much easier to treat than seawater.

But independent of that, that negative reaction to waster water reuse, if you think about it, 90% of the world’s water is not used for human consumption, or for domestic use. So we’ve got a great opportunity to treat and reuse our waste water for agriculture irrigation, for industrial uses, for a lot of other uses before we ever get to the point where we have to use it for, you know, direct potable water reuse. So today we see a lot of adaptation of reuse water to take the load off of streams and rivers and fresh water supplies, to be used in industrial plants.

Question: What is ‘waste to value’?

Jeffrey Fulgham: Another great area related to water reuse is this idea of waste to value. How you take a waste stream, don’t look at that as a liability any more. There’s a lot of goodies in waste water, for instance. In a municipal waste water system, tremendous amount of carbon content, which you can convert to energy. So this idea of having a waste water plant that is carbon neutral or actually generates, you know, more power than it consumes, a tremendous opportunity. Phosphorous is a dwindling resource, globally, yet there’s a phosphorous in waste streams. So there’s some cool technologies coming out that are going to be able to selectively remove things like phosphate or metals like copper, from a waste stream and be able to process those into a finished product. So we need to stop thinking about a waste water stream as pure waste and look at that as an asset. Not unlike we’ve been looking at, you know, if you think about recycled aluminum and plastic and all that used to be a pure waste stream, that’s now raw material for other processes. So waste water in the future will be a raw material for many processes.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Tom Raftery.