Japan: selling sewage to Australia

Japan has an unlikely new export product:  the sewage it normally dumps into rivers or the sea. The first buyer is the Australian mining industry. Could this also become a new money earner for developing countries? Well, no. The “export quality” sewage in question is effluent from high-tech Japanese wastewater treatment plants.

An innovative trade experiment will take place in the autumn of 2010. Australian ships with iron ore for Japan, will return, not with seawater in their ballast tanks, but with highly treated sewage water.

Australia is facing a water shortage and mines need a lot of (expensive) water for their operations. If all goes well, the cost of Japan’s sewage water will be less than the AU$ 4 to AU$5 (US$ 3.50 – US$ 4.40) per ton that the mining companies currently have to pay.

Companies involved in the experiment, including Hitachi Plant Technologies Ltd., plan to start sewage water exports on a commercial basis in fiscal 2012. The state of Western Australia, home to major mining companies such as Rio Tinto, has agreed to cooperate in the experiment.

In Japan, about 14 billion tons of treated sewage water is produced every year, but only 1.5 percent of the amount was reused in 2007.

Source: Dai Narusawa, Asahi Shimbun, 07 Jul 2010

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