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Root zones are better than industrial wastewater treatment in many ways - sustainability is the biggest one, but the price is favorable too. On the other hand, I've heard that root zones are economically sensible only on low-scale, and that they cannot manage some kinds of waste.

What exactly are the limits of this way of wastewater treatment? Under which conditions they aren't completely sensible, or even not effective?

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    This question is too broad. Several books could be written in response, and indeed have. "Root Zone System" is techno-babble for "leech field". Can you revise your question, Pavel, to ask if a root zone system is applicable given specific constraints? – OCDtech Feb 22 '13 at 19:07
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Yes, root zone treatment only works really well where you have space. Here in Jakarta everyone has septic systems in a city twice the size of New York. I wouldn't drink the well water even if you boiled it. The major concerns include things like organic chemicals/solvants, and the like. many of these things take time to break down in the soil, and they require sufficient soil to break down in, neither of these work very well in a crowded city. For houses with wells, you can actually smell the water.

For large cities, I am not convinced they are more sustainable either. The basic problem is that there are things you can do with centralized treatment (on a city level) that you can't in the root zone. For example, you can harvest methane, compress it, and pipe it into the natural gas system. This itself may be a partial answer to decarbonizing heating for folks with gas heating systems and severe fabric constraints on their houses. However for rural systems they are the way to go.

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