Exciting Advances Turn Wastewater into Beautiful Gardens


by Traci Knight

 Wastewater, or human sewage, has become a blight on humanity.  Sewage treatment plants are breeding grounds for antibiotic resistant bacteria. These treatment plants are continually spewing contamination into the water supply, and defouling freshwater and ocean water. The fact that we are using drinking water to flush away our excrement  represents an unforgivable and perhaps suicidal waste in the face of water scarcity. Potable water is, and always has been a precious resource.  Without it we are dead.

 

nasty river

 Modern Bathrooms are Unsustainable 

 To stop the spread of fecal borne illness such as cholera, pipes for running waste water were installed in homes in London during the mid 1800’s. Water wasting showers, sinks, and flushing toilets were born, along with the notion of repurposing human wastewater for agricultural uses.  Unfortunately, that idea was not implemented, until now. Toilets make up 30% of total water consumption and use between 3 to 8 gallons per flush.  A 10 minute shower can use up to 50 gallons of water.  Shower water can be recycled as greywater.  Toilet waste is considered blackwater and must be thoroughly composted or else filtered biologically through a plant and gravel system, such as those on Earthships.

Earthship.com-5 

Earthship Designs Lead the Way

 While originally opting for composting toilets, flush toilets are now the standard in Earthships utilizing a 6 step system.  The blackwater is sent outside to a solar-enhanced incubator with leach-field and planter cells.  This is an anaerobic tank that uses solar to store heat and aid in the breakdown process. Water is then channelled into plant cells that are usually placed below windows. If this system is not possible for your build, dry toilets are being chosen and regular planters are being used.

 

 

earthship(1)

 Composting Toilets Still a Good Option

 Composting and dry toilets modernize ecological sanitation, just as they brings us back to our societal and evolutionary roots. Composting toilets work to isolate excrement and break it down using sawdust. Dry toilets use ash or lime to dry out wastewater.  These toilets can cost several thousand dollars per unit  for  state of the art composting systems that promise no odor and a two year wait for usable compost.

 With a DIY system, wastewater is collected and emptied every two weeks and additionally composted, usually in a buried, turn, and rotate system.  Outdoor compost batches take two years to be safe from dangerous microbes and pathogens, but there are less harmful vectors in a home system – so the compost could ultimately be used as fertilizer, even food crops as has been done with success in many cultures in the past.

 Recycling Wastewater as Fertilizer

The goal is to create a closed loop system, where we connect our waste back into the environmental nutrient cycle.  Rather than sending our wastewater into the sewer where it creates toxic runoff and onward to inadequate waste treatment facilities, we can continually create rich humus and fertilizer, thus closing the loop. This fertilizer could even be used to feed industrial crops, although local, sustainable uses would further cut down on the need to use the fossil fuels inherent in massive agricultural operations. It would also allow people to grow small scale but high yield food crops.

 Millions of pounds of Nitrogen are dumped on corn alone each year.  The effects of synthetic nitrogen include soil depletion, ocean dead zones, oxygen deprivation, and significant overall harm or death to the human body if in direct contact with it.  Although the body does need nitrogen to synthesize proteins and repair cells, this is a different form and normally obtained through a balanced diet containing legumes, nuts, and animal foods

wastewater earthships

The overabundance of synthetic nitrogen is adding to the environmental toxic load.  Sewage treatment plants are woefully inadequate to deal with human wastewater, let alone that of Confined Animal Feedlot Operations(CAFO’s). Chemical companies keep making more inorganic fertilizer, despite the fact that we can provide growing nutrients from our own bodies, without the soil depletion and host of ecological crisis.  Employing these methods requires a different mindset but is not that difficult to implement. Changes like these are quickly becoming necessary as we begin encountering water scarcity on a grand scale.

 

wastewater

 

Sources:

 http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/15/why-modern-bathroom-wasteful-unhealthy-design 

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/drugresistant-bacteria-sewagetreatment-plants-described-as-giant-mixing-vessels-after-scientists-discover-mutated-microbes-in-british-river-9615850.html <p> http://www.home-water-works.org/indoor-use/toilets 

 http://greywateraction.org/content/about-composting-toilets 

 http://grist.org/series/the-n2-dilemma-is-america-fertilizing-disaster/ 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/envirolet-eco-friendly-toilet-compost_n_1439078.html 

 http://www.offthegridbuild.com/?p=62 

 http://opensourceecology.org/wiki/Earthship 

 

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Categories: Permaculture

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