World Toilet Day Highlights Global Need for Sanitation

By Essential Utilities Chief Environmental, Safety and Sustainability Officer Chris Crockett

During the COVID-19 pandemic, public awareness of the importance of good wastewater service increased as people realized that flushing sanitizing wipes down the toilet led to clogs and other problems. During early 2021, some communities began to monitor levels of COVID-19 in the wastewater to determine if cases were increasing and were able to predict increases in the population two weeks before normal reporting by physicians and testing companies could detect them. 

Wastewater treatment isn’t just essential to fighting COVID-19, it’s essential for all parts of life. According to the United Nations,  3.6 billion people in the world live without a household toilet that safely disposes of their waste. In communities with weak sanitation infrastructure, pipes can break, and raw sewage can empty into the environment. This puts waste into the open air where it’s spread by flies or contaminates farmland and water sources to make people seriously ill. Many types of pathogens are in wastewater, which needs to be properly treated to reduce the spread of disease in the community.

World Toilet Day, a day of observation designated by the United Nations General Assembly, provides an opportunity for global entities to work together to inspire action and tackle this sanitation crisis.

In the United States, it’s easy for people to take for granted the intense wastewater treatment process that occurs when water goes down a drain or toilet. Aqua provides wastewater service to more than 250,000 people throughout the eight states we serve, and we operate 185 wastewater treatment plants and collection systems to safely clean this water. Our company uses a stringent seven-step wastewater treatment process meeting the highest environmental standards before returning the cleaned water to rivers and streams. The wastewater is first transported from homes, schools and businesses to one of our treatment plants through underground pipes, where screens and other mechanisms remove materials like paper, rocks and sand. The next step, known as primary clarification, occurs when oil and grease float to the top of the water and are skimmed off, while heavier materials sink to the bottom of the tanks and are removed.

The water then moves to biological treatment and final clarification, during which microscopic organisms break down organic material in the wastewater. After this point, the primarily clear liquid flows through final clarification before it is sent through filtration, where most of the remaining suspended particles are removed from the water. In the sixth step, disinfection, ultraviolet light and other treatment methods are used to kill all disease-causing organisms. The seventh step occurs when the treated water is discharged for irrigation or returned to local rivers and streams.

Each day, Aqua returns nearly 32 million gallons of treated wastewater into bodies of water cleaner than it was when it came out. That’s 11.5 billion gallons every year. This clean water is critical to our water supplies and the fish and flora that need it to survive. You can learn more about Aqua’s wastewater treatment in our ESG report at

But in so many other areas of the world, countries are struggling to properly dispose of and treat the wastewater to keep their human population healthy. The U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, include a target to ensure that everyone across the globe has access to a safely managed household toilet by 2030.

Aqua works to help developing countries by providing water infrastructure expertise in Central America each year, and there are ways we all can help promote the importance of wastewater treatment during World Toilet Day. By visiting the World Toilet Day website, you can learn more about the issue and share information with your networks to promote this important cause.