previousOverview and summary of this lesson Definition and measurement of wastewater
Domestic wastewater sources and its characteristics

Wastewater is the water which is disposed from homes, offices and industry. It comes from toilets, sinks, showers, washing machines and industrial processes and was historically called sewage.

Figure 1: Sources of domestic wastewater (Samwel 2005)

Wastewater produced due to human activities in households is called domestic wastewater i.e. wastewater from the kitchen, shower, wash basin, toilet and laundry (see figure 1). It is defined as follows:

The strength and composition of the domestic wastewater changes on hourly, daily and seasonal basis, with the average strength dependent on per capita water usage, habits, diet, living standard and life style. The main reason is variation in water usage in households. Households in developed countries use more water than those in developing countries.

Wastewater components can be divided into different main groups as shown in Table 1.

They can adversely affect the aquatic life if discharge them into environmental.


Of special interest

Environmental effect


Pathogenic bacteria, virus and worms eggs

Risk when bathing and

eating shellfish

Biodegradable organic materials

Oxygen depletion in rivers and lakes

Fish death, odours

Other organic materials

Detergents, pesticides, fat, oil and grease, colouring, solvents, phenols, cyanide

Toxic effect, aesthetic inconveniences, bioaccumulation in the food chain


Nitrogen, phosphorus, ammonium

Eutrophication, oxygen depletion, toxic effect


Hg, Pb, Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni

Toxic effect, bioaccumulation

Other inorganic materials

Acids, for example hydrogen sulphide, bases

Corrosion, toxic effect

Thermal effects

Hot water

Changing living conditions for flora and fauna

Odour (and taste)

Hydrogen sulphide

Aesthetic inconveniences, toxic effect


Toxic effect, accumulation

Table 1: Components present in domestic wastewater (Henze and Ledin; 2001)

Physically, domestic wastewater is usually characterised by a grey colour, musty odour and has a solids content of about 0.1%. The solid material is a mixture of faeces, food particles, toilet paper, grease, oil, soap, salts, metals, detergents, sand and grit. The solids can be suspended (about 30%) as well as dissolved (about 70%). Dissolved solids can be precipitated by chemical and biological processes. From a physical point of view, the suspended solids can lead to the development of sludge deposits and anaerobic conditions when discharged into the receiving Environment.

Chemically, wastewater is composed of organic (70%) and inorganic (30%) compounds as well as various gases. Organic compounds consist primarily of carbohydrates (25 %), proteins (65 %) and fats (10 %), which reflects the diet of the people. Inorganic components may consist of heavy metals, nitrogen, phosphorus, pH, sulphur, chlorides, alkalinity, toxic compounds, etc. However, since wastewater contains a higher portion of dissolved solids than suspended, about 85 to 90% of the total inorganic component is dissolved and about 55 to 60% of the total organic component is dissolved. Gases commonly dissolved in wastewater are hydrogen sulphide, methane, ammonia, oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The first three gases result from the decomposition of organic matter present in the wastewater.

Biologically, wastewater contains various microorganisms but the ones that are of concern are those classified as protista, plants, and animals. The category of protista includes bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and algae. Plants include ferns, mosses, seed plants and liverworts. Invertebrates and vertebrates are included in the animal category. In terms of wastewater treatment, the most important category are the protista, especially the bacteria, algae, and protozoa. Also, wastewater contains many pathogenic organisms which generally originate from humans who are infected with disease or who are carriers of a particular disease. Typically, the concentration of faecal coliforms found in raw wastewater is about several hundred thousand to tens of million per 100 ml of sample.

For samples of microscopically views on micro-organisms see the “Microbiological Garden�:

Or see the slide and video microscope under:

The composition of typical domestic wastewater is shown in Table 2. Concentrated wastewater represents cases with low water consumption whereas dilute wastewater represents high water consumption.

Analysis parameters

Wastewater type



5-days Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD5)

mg O2/l


Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD)

mg O2/l


Total Organic Carbon (TOC)

g C/m3


Suspended Solid (SS)

g SS/ m3


Volatile Suspended Solid (VSS)

g VSS/ m3



eqv/ m3 *



mS/m **


Total Nitrogen

g N/ m3


Total Phosphorous

g P/ m3


Fats, oil and grease

g/ m3


Table 2: Different parameters in domestic wastewater (Henze and Ledin, 2001)

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