Decentralised resource recovery from wastewater

The economical handling of resources is also becoming increasingly important in Switzerland. As has long been known from waste recycling, resources can also be efficiently recovered from wastewater. Eawag conducts interdisciplinary research into sustainable solutions that benefits both people and the environment.

The construction of sewage systems and wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) for the central treatment of wastewater has enabled decisive progress in the last century for human hygiene and health, but also for the protection of the environment around cities and villages. However, this system consumes large quantities of water and makes it difficult to recover the reusable materials contained in the wastewater. Climate change, the high input of nutrients into the environment, the growing population as well as the massive loss of biodiversity are urging us to rethink the existing system. As hot periods become more frequent and rainfall precipitation shifts, large amounts of water are needed in increasingly populous cities. Valuable substances contained in wastewater, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, become problematic substances when they enter natural waters. At the same time, phosphorus has to be mined under environmentally harmful conditions and imported because it is needed as fertiliser in agriculture.

In addition to the protection of human health and water bodies, the more efficient utilisation of resources from wastewater is therefore an objective in wastewater treatment. One approach is to close the cycles of water, nutrients and energy as locally as possible. New technologies based on the concept of separation at the source allow the decentralised treatment of wastewater on site in the smallest possible space.

In focus

May 5, 2022

May 5, 2022Eawag researchers Sabine Hoffmann, Kai Udert and Lisa Deutsch are committed to a sanitation and nutrient transformation. They use an example to explain why a transformation is needed and why collaboration with politicians in particular is a challenge.

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May 4, 2022

May 4, 2022What has been a purification process in wastewater treatment plants for decades can also be used decentrally or semi-centrally as a recycling process for nutrients. Early separation of "solid and liquid" plays a key role here. It allows for flexible solutions in terms of process technology, especially in the treatment of urine. New studies also show that the processes can be used not only for human urine, but also for that of cows or pigs.

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April 12, 2022

April 12, 2022Eawag is taking its experience with the treatment of faecal sludge in low-income countries and applying this know-how in Switzerland. The aim is to develop solutions that allow wastewater to be used as a source of energy and nutrients.

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April 8, 2022

April 8, 2022The Wings Research Programme explores alternative, decentralised sewage systems and brings actors from the areas of research, politics, authorities, urban planning, and engineering and architectural firms together.  The objective is to promote innovations in the water sector and find ways to create a sustainable and flexible future for wastewater.

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November 17, 2021

November 17, 2021The separation toilet save! has won the Design Award Switzerland 2021. This is also a milestone for Tove Larsen. She is a member of the Eawag Directorate and has been researching for almost 30 years how the nutrients in wastewater can be recovered in a useful way. In this interview on the occasion of World Toilet Day 2021, she explains how crucial our handling of wastewater is for climate change and for achieving the SDGs sustainability goals.

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November 17, 2021

November 17, 2021Together with a team of researchers and designers, Kai Udert has designed a toilet system that makes it possible to recycle nutrients from wastewater on-site. As a result, valuable nutrients can be recovered and used as fertilisers so that they no longer end up in lakes and oceans where they do a lot of damage. Now he wants to make the system ready for market together with industry partners.

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September 9, 2021

September 9, 2021An Eawag study has shown that it makes good sense to recover domestic energy, for example from warm shower water. The study refutes concerns that this form of heat utilisation could have a negative impact on waste water treatment plants. In fact, utilising the energy closer to its source reduces energy losses in the waste-water system.

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Research priorities

In the inter- and transdisciplinary strategic WINGS research programme, the opportunities and challenges of non-network-based water and sewage systems are explored.

The Water Hub develops decentralised water and wastewater management in the NEST building of Eawag and Empa. The focus is on resource recovery and closing the cycles locally.

The NoMix approach to separating wastewater streams in toilets at source has been explored by Eawag researchers for many years.


5.00 pm
Eawag Dübendorf
5.00 pm
Eawag Dübendorf
21. - 22.06.​2022,

Special No 01 2022

Further projects for the decentralised recovery of resources from wastewater

We develop reactors for the separate treatment of urine, feces and water directly in the toilet.
By recovering nutrients from urine, we develop a sanitation system, which produces a valuable fertiliser
Communities across the world face water supply challenges due to increasing demand, drought, groundwater depletion and contamination, dependence on single sources of supply, and ageing infrastructure
Is a space research program, aiming to develop a bioregenerative life support system for long-term space missions and space habitations for example on Mars.
We are identifying the challenges of modular infrastructure systems for the Swiss economy and society using the example of urban water management.
Resource recovery, market based approaches, and business models, are key to sustainable management.

Publications for practice

Larsen, T. A.; Udert, K. M.; Lienert, J. (2013) Source separation and decentralization for wastewater management, 491 p, doi:10.2166/9781780401072, Institutional Repository

Scientific publications

Hoffmann, S.; Feldmann, U.; Bach, P. M.; Binz, C.; Farrelly, M.; Frantzeskaki, N.; Hiessl, H.; Inauen, J.; Larsen, T. A.; Lienert, J.; Londong, J.; Lüthi, C.; Maurer, M.; Mitchell, C.; Morgenroth, E.; Nelson, K. L.; Scholten, L.; Truffer, B.; Udert, K. M. (2020) A research agenda for the future of urban water management: exploring the potential of non-grid, small-grid, and hybrid solutions, Environmental Science and Technology, 54(9), 5312-5322, doi:10.1021/acs.est.9b05222, Institutional Repository
Larsen, T. A.; Hoffmann, S.; Lüthi, C.; Truffer, B.; Maurer, M. (2016) Emerging solutions to the water challenges of an urbanizing world, Science, 352(6288), 928-933, doi:10.1126/science.aad8641, Institutional Repository
Reynaert, E.; Hess, A.; Morgenroth, E. (2021) Making waves: why water reuse frameworks need to co-evolve with emerging small-scale technologies, Water Research X, 11, 100094 (5 pp.), doi:10.1016/j.wroa.2021.100094, Institutional Repository
Larsen, T. A.; Riechmann, M. E.; Udert, K. M. (2021) State of the art of urine treatment technologies: a critical review., Water Research X, 13, 100114 (20 pp.), doi:10.1016/j.wroa.2021.100114, Institutional Repository
Larsen, T. A.; Gruendl, H.; Binz, C. (2021) The potential contribution of urine source separation to the SDG agenda - a review of the progress so far and future development options, Environmental Science: Water Research and Technology, 7(7), 1161-1176, doi:10.1039/D0EW01064B, Institutional Repository
Hadengue, B.; Joshi, P.; Figueroa, A.; Larsen, T. A.; Blumensaat, F. (2021) In-building heat recovery mitigates adverse temperature effects on biological wastewater treatment: a network-scale analysis of thermal-hydraulics in sewers, Water Research, 204, 117552 (11 pp.), doi:10.1016/j.watres.2021.117552, Institutional Repository


Urine separation

Prof. Dr. Kai Udert
  • wastewater separation
  • decentralized technologies
  • nutrients
  • urine separation
  • resource recovery
Prof. Dr. Tove Larsen
  • NoMix
  • urine separation

Greywater treatment

Dr. Céline Jacquin
  • membranes
  • decentralized systems
  • water quality
  • drinking water
  • cellular ecotoxicology
Prof. Dr. Eberhard Morgenroth
  • wastewater
  • decentralized technologies
  • nutrients
  • urban water management
  • urban planning
  • urine separation
Dr. Frederik Hammes
  • drinking water
  • water treatment
  • sensors
  • Flow cytometry
  • Biological filtration
Dr. Tim Julian
  • microbes
  • urban sanitation

Blackwater treatment

Dr. Linda Strande
  • wastewater
  • developing countries


Dr. Sabine Hoffmann
  • sustainable water management
  • transdisciplinary research

Cover picture: Daniel Röttele/