Decentralized wastewater treatment has the potential to provide sanitation that meets criteria for sustainable urban water management in a manner that is less resource intensive and more cost effective than centralized approaches. It can facilitate water reuse and nutrient recovery and can potentially reduce the ecological risks of wastewater system failure and the community health risk in a wastewater reuse scheme. This paper examines the potential role of membrane technology in sustainable decentralized sanitation. It is argued that the combination of membrane technology within decentralized systems can satisfy many of the criteria for sustainable urban water management. In particular, the role of membranes as a dependable barrier in the wastewater treatment process can increase system reliability as well as lowering the latent risks due to wastewater reuse. The modular nature of membranes will allow plant size to range from single dwellings, through clusters to suburb size. It is concluded that realization of the potential for membrane-based technologies in decentralized wastewater treatment will require some progress both technically and institutionally. The areas where advances are necessary are outlined.

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