The Dirty Truth About Turning Seawater Into Drinking Water
As countries in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere struggle to find enough freshwater to meet demand, they’re increasingly turned to the ocean. Desalination plants, located in 177 countries, can help turn seawater into freshwater. Unfortunately, these plants also produce a lot of waste—more waste, in fact, than water for people to drink.
A paper published Monday by United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment, and Health in the journal Science of the Total Environment found that desalination plants globally produce enough brine—a salty, chemical-laden byproduct—in a year to cover all of Florida in nearly a foot of it. That’s a lot of brine.
In fact, the study concluded that for every liter of freshwater a plant produces, 0.4 gallons (1.5 liters) of brine are produced on average. For all the 15,906 plants around the world, that means 37.5 billion gallons (142 billion liters) of this salty-ass junk every day. Brine production in just four Middle Eastern countries—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates—accounts for more than half of this.