The sum of human waste produced by 7.8 billion people is grossly impacting human health and the environment, with wastewater adding around 6.2 million tons of nitrogen to coastal waters annually, along with unknown amounts of other pollutants ranging from pharmaceuticals to microplastics.

Sewage and wastewater pollution are so bad, in fact, that they’re contributing to the destabilization of Earth’s safe operating systems, negatively impacting at least five planetary boundaries — polluting freshwater, the ocean, and land with nutrient overloads and other contaminants; harming biodiversity; and even adding to climate change.

But while wastewater pollution is a dangerous multiheaded hydra, there are a plethora of technologies and innovations being tested and implemented to tackle the crisis. The good news: each local solution that works, and can then be scaled up globally, offers an opportunity to start backing away from not just one planetary boundary breach, but several.

Efforts are currently underway across the world not only to treat wastewater and offer adequate sanitation, but also to recover and reuse the valuable nutrients and freshwater we flush away daily as waste.

About six in 10 people planetwide lack access to proper sanitation, according to USAID. In developing nations, where basic sanitation systems and waste treatment facilities are lacking, access to safe sanitation is a first vital step. Without such services, communities can be exposed to harmful bacteria and diseases, while ecosystems, such as coral reefs and seagrass meadows, can be overloaded with nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients, or threatened by toxic chemicals found in wastewater.

Many governmental organizations, including the United Nations and USAID, along with partner countries, are actively working to solve basic sanitation problems. The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) is just one example of an NGO catalyzing that effort. It supports communities, helping them find sanitation solutions that protect reefs. CORAL conservation director Helen Fox points to two such projects.

Read the full article about sewage and wastewater pollution at Our Shared Seas.