How Modern Wastewater Treatment Changed our World

Without wastewater treatment, diseases and infections would ravage our society.

by Trevor English


Wastewater treatment is often an overlooked necessity of civilization. Without proper sewer systems, wastewater treatment plants, and overall regulation, our cities would be ripe with disease and human waste everywhere.

Believe it or not, much of the modern wastewater management technology we consider standard in any 21st century home, things like toilets and sewer pipes, are actually relatively new in the grand scheme of history.

The history of wastewater treatment

That’s not to say that sewer systems haven’t been around for ages. After all, the ancient Romans had a complex system of sewers at the peak of their empire. Rather, the knowledge of how poorly managed wastewater can drastically impact the health of society is relatively new.

The Romans had a centralized sewage management system, although it was fairly rudimentary by today’s standards. Open and closed ditches and pipes would carry away excrement and trash, primarily using rainwater runoff. The contaminated water would then flow into large concrete tanks that let the sewage settle out before the water was allowed to flow into the nearby rivers. There was indoor plumbing, and public latrines were also built over the sewers.