Closing the Loop on Wastewater in China and the United States | Wilson Center
5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Closing the Loop on Wastewater in China and the United States

Webcast available

Webcast Recap

The webcast for this event will not be live. It will be recorded and posted on Wednesday morning. 


Wastewater is often out of sight and out of mind. It disappears from our lives, flowing through pipes and underground sewers for treatment in often-distant plants. Yet treated wastewater replenishes waterways and ensures a healthy environment. Inadequate wastewater systems can cripple cities like New York and Beijing, leaving them vulnerable to flooding and surface water pollution. 


Quality wastewater systems are critical but energy intensive, potentially using more than 30 percent of municipal electricity. To combat this power drain, some cities in the United States increasingly make biogas from wastewater biosolids to power their plants—a cost-saving and climate-conscious solution. If more cities make use of the resources in wastewater, the economic and environmental potential is enormous. Currently, the wastewater sector accounts for 10 percent of global methane emissions, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than CO2. China makes up a quarter of these emissions. 


At this December 10th China Environment Forum meeting, our speakers will delve into how cities can close the loop on wastewater through methane capture and water recycling to turn wastewater into a cost-saving and sustainable resource. Danielle Neighbour (former Wilson Center Schwarzman Fellow and now at the State Department) will talk about lessons New York City can offer Beijing and other Chinese cities on capturing methane from wastewater biosolids. 


Building on her talk, Patrick Serfass (American Biogas Council) will explain the state of the US biogas market, of which the wastewater sector is one part, and will give examples or the role municipalities often play to help cities recycle food scraps and wastewater sludge to produce renewable energy and soil products. Scott Houston (West Basin Municipal Water District) will close out with a deep dive into how the Los Angeles region has become a leader in water recycling, which provides a sustainable alternative water supply while reducing treated wastewater discharge into the Pacific Ocean and also lowers the region’s dependence on water supplied through the state’s various aqueduct systems.





  • Jennifer L. Turner

    Director, China Environment Forum & Manager, Global Choke Point Initiative