Assessing the environmental impacts and greenhouse gas emissions from the common municipal wastewater treatment systems

Thi Kieu Loan Nguyen, Huu Hao Ngo*, Wenshan Guo, Long Duc Nghiem, Guangren Qian, Qiang Liu, Jianyong Liu, Zhuo Chen, Xuan Thanh Bui, Bandita Mainali

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


[Graphic abstract presents]

This study measured the environmental impacts from three same-size wastewater treatment systems, specifically activated sludge, a constructed wetland, and a high rate algal pond. Detailed data inventories were employed using SimaPro 9 software to calculate the entire consequences by ReCiPe 2016 and Greenhouse Gas Protocol method. The environmental outcomes caused by substance emissions and resource extraction are presented in several impact categories at the endpoint level. For a better comparison, the single score tool was applied to aggregate all factors into three areas of protection: human health, ecosystem, and resource shortage. Results showed that concrete and steel are the main contributors to the construction phase, while electricity is responsible for the operation stage. The single score calculation indicates that the proportion of construction activities could be equal to or even higher than the operation stage for a small capacity plant. The total environmental impact of the conventional system was 2.3-fold and 3-fold higher than that of constructed wetland and high rate algal pond, respectively. High rate algal pond has the best environmental performance when generating the least burdens and greenhouse gas emissions of 0.72 kg CO2 equivalent per m3. Constructed wetland produces 5.69 kg CO2, higher than an algal pond but much lower than activated sludge plant, emitting 11.42 kg CO2 per m3.

Original languageEnglish
Article number149676
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Activated sludge
  • Constructed wetland
  • High rate algal pond
  • Conventional wastewater treatment plant
  • Nature-based wastewater system
  • Environmental impact
  • Life cycle assessment


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