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.


The Global Science Film Festival has nominated the short film «Verhebets? A Resource-Oriented Apéro» by Eawag junior researchers in the category "Best Short Film 2023".

Verhebts? A ressource-oriented Apéro

The connection obligation is a killer argument against the implementation of decentralised and resource-oriented sanitation systems. Besides, there is no implementation knowledge for such systems in Switzerland. Young researchers from the Wings program asked themselves, "Is this really the case"? In their new video project, they dispel myths surrounding resource-based sanitation systems.


December 1, 2023

December 1, 2023A team of seven current and former Eawag researchers will receive the Swiss Chemical Society’s Sandmeyer Prize in 2024 for the development of advanced wastewater treatment for the degradation of micropollutants using ozone. And the most amazing thing is: Just about 15 years have passed between basic research and large-scale technical implementation. This incredible timetable was only possible thanks to the wealth of knowledge already available at Eawag and the fact that interdisciplinary collaboration is a matter of course at the Swiss aquatic research institute.

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November 30, 2023

November 30, 2023This research project explores vermifiltration as an alternative method for wastewater treatment. The aim is to fill knowledge gaps.

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August 17, 2023

August 17, 2023The combined sewer system is a great achievement. But the discharge of diluted wastewater into central sewage treatment plants is approaching its limits.

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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.


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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

Greywater treatment

Prof. Dr. Eberhard Morgenroth
  • wastewater
  • decentralized technologies
  • nutrients
  • urban water management
  • urban planning
  • urine separation
Dr. Frederik Hammes
  • biofilms
  • Flow cytometry
  • Legionella
  • Microbiology
  • sensors
Dr. Tim Julian
  • microbes
  • urban sanitation

Blackwater treatment

Dr. Linda Strande
  • wastewater
  • developing countries


Dr. Sabine Hoffmann
  • sustainable water management
  • stakeholder participation
  • science-policy interface
  • transdisciplinary research

Cover picture: Daniel Röttele/