Sustainable design of large wastewater treatment plants considering multi-criteria decision analysis and stakeholders' involvement

J Environ Manage. 2020 May 1;261:110158. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2020.110158. Epub 2020 Jan 30.


The typical treatment scheme of a large municipal wastewater treatment plant (LWWTP) is almost always the result of design based on technical and economic criteria. Once a threshold in terms of population equivalent (PE) is reached, it is possible that additional sludge thermal treatment might be required. Aspects such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and land use for the construction of the WWTP or the service landfill are considered marginal in current design practice; in a world that requires increasingly attention to the environment, these criteria cannot be ignored when defining the treatment scheme of a LWWTP. With the intent of providing a sustainable approach to design, this study aims to identify the best treatment scheme for a LWWTP with a 720,000 PE size. Methodologically, the study involves the development of an approach based on multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA). Six alternative treatment schemes were considered; two simplified schemes, without primary sedimentation, with extended aeration activated sludge processes and aerobic sludge stabilization; four full schemes, with primary sedimentation and anaerobic sludge digestion. Some schemes differ for the organic loading rate applied; others for the use of sludge incineration. Subsequently, six evaluation criteria (ECs) such as GHG emissions, electricity consumption, running costs, WWTP planimetric area, surface for the service landfill, as well as WWTP as biorefinery have been considered. The weighting of the ECs involved the participation of the main stakeholders in such a decision-making process, following a bottom-up approach. The resolution of the MCDA problem allowed the identification of the full scheme based on primary sedimentation, biological activated sludge at low organic load (0.210 kgBOD5/kgVSS/d) and anaerobic sludge digestion as the best solution. The sensitivity analysis, able to indirectly take into account the multitude of decision makers involved, allowed corroborating the results. The obtained treatment scheme was different from that generally adopted in current design practice for LWWTPs.

Keywords: Decision making; ECAM; Energy consumption; Sludge thermal treatment; Stakeholder involvement; Treatment scheme.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Incineration
  • Sewage
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid*
  • Waste Water*


  • Sewage
  • Waste Water