Alternative and Highly Scalable Water and Wastewater Treatment
We are huge consumers and wasters of water. In its purest form, or as a contaminated waste product, water is a constant point of attention at some level in our daily lives. Most of the time it arrives through the faucet and leaves down the drain without our constant concern. But for many people there times when using unconventional ideas are necessary to solve a unique problem. We have written about a few of these ideas in printed publications, but there are some new concepts here that we are successfully employing on various projects. These systems are not mutually exclusive and can be employed in combination with each other or with conventional systems not listed here. The beauty of treating water in its various forms is that there is a huge palette of solutions to choose from. Some of these solutions came from eco-villages and other communal living situations and are not intended to be appropriate in all locations.
Tower of Urine – This is one of my favorite ideas. If you are sleeping on the second story of your house start by rigging up a funnel attached to a hose that leads through the wall and into the top 5-gallon bucket of a stack of buckets containing straw, grass, sawdust or wood-shavings. Each bucket is perforated at the bottom and tops, except the bottom bucket, which only has a spigot at the bottom. During the night, instead of urinating in a toilet, do it into the funnel (they can be modified for each gender). The Urine will percolate down through the tower of buckets and end up filtered and clear at the bottom where it can be drained and used as a potent fertilizer. After a number of months, each bucket will be full of a rich composted material to be further composted and used elsewhere. This is the smallest-scale treatment of wastewater on this list and is not intended to treat solids – only urine.
Outdoor Toilets – These are not suitable in all climates, but the idea is to set up a platform with or without an outhouse on it. The platform is built over a screened, open box maybe 4 feet tall. All waste is dropped through a hole in the platform onto the ground. straw or grass is thrown onto the waste as it builds up. After a year or two (depending on level of usage) another identical setup is used nearby. The first pile of waste is left to decompose and turned to accelerate the process. The screen (chicken wire) is left in place to keep critters out. These work very well in the right climates where decomposition can take place in an efficient manner.
5-Gallon Bucket Toilets – Easy to make. Use an old toilet seat and create a full seat over a 5-gallon bucket. Throw in straw grass or wood shavings after you go. As the bucket fills up, empty in a screened area that is regularly turned to accelerate the composting process.
Zero-Discharge Beds – This is a material and energy intensive system, but one which can be used in the most extreme individual situations. It is basically a greenhouse built over a recirculating sand filter. Plants are planted on top of the sand filter, which is lined with an impermeable liner. The species and number of plants are specified very carefully and used as “pumps” to evapotranspire treated wastewater into the atmosphere, leaving nothing to discharge into the ground. No leach field required! The caveats with this type of system are that if it is done in a northern climate, it will need hydronic heating to keep the roots active during the winter months. It also needs an air manifold for blasting open the pores in the sand regularly as they fill with biotic life. The design of these systems is complex and should be done by a qualified engineer/biologist.
Constructed Wetlands – Artificially created and controlled wetlands have been in use for decades as a secondary form of wastewater treatment. Unfortunately, many state health departments are not willing to allow them as residential individual sewage disposal systems (ISDS’s) without an adjacent leach field. Discharging to the atmosphere or an adjacent waterway can require the use of a regular third party monitoring operation to prove the systems effectiveness. The cost of either an adjacent leach field or ongoing monitoring is usually too cost prohibitive for a single home. Constructed wetlands can be effectively used on a community-wide basis due to economies of scale. At any scale they are one of the least-expensive systems for normal treatment of wastewater or water polishing. They are also used to remove heavy metals for mine wastewater.
Electro-Coagulation (EC) – This is the most sophisticated system on this list and we must admit bias because Odisea represents Electro-Chemistry and their unique version of this timely technology. Electro-coagulation is the basic concept of using electricity to treat water or wastewater. The process is simple, extremely scalable and able to treat a vast majority of water contaminants. It can be used on individual projects to treat small waste streams, as a system to treat ballast water in ocean transport vessels, and to treat large quantities of municipal wastewater. It is currently used in various forms to treat salt water swimming pools and by large corporations treating water used in hydraulic fracturing operations. It can be used to treat potable water in place of traditional UV disinfection.The system invented by Electro-Chemistry has addressed historical barriers of electro-coagulation and is being used by the military of a developed country to treat water at forward operating bases (FOB’s) in conflict zones, as well as to treat large quantities of laundry wastewater in a Middle East country where the need for water reclamation is very valuable. In our opinion, this form of wastewater treatment holds the most promise on a large scale. It is clean and simple, alleviating or greatly reducing the need for chemicals and biological processes that typically generate large quantities of treated sludge. The sludge generated by EC technology is usually free of chemicals and additives resulting in less-costly de-watering operations. Sludge from EC can be so pure the constituents are easily reclaimed and reused in various industrial processes closing the loop of resources consumption and waste.
Aerobic Septic Treatment Modules – This treatment technology is not necessarily “alternative,” but it deserves mention because it is effective in many situations where other alternatives may not exist. This type of system is basically a variation of the common septic tank/leach field found on most rural properties. The aerobic module is inserted between the septic tank and leach field to aerobically digest the effluent before discharge to the leach field. This makes for much cleaner effluent when your leach filed is either in bad soil or near other sensitive water features, such as creeks, rivers and lakes, or other publicly used waterways. This idea is described by the National Sanitation Foundation here.
We are always interested to learn about new or obscure non-conventional systems because more options means better solutions for our water problems, so please let us know if we have missed something. The issue of water will always be with us and deserves our full attention. Odisea is committed to being at the forefront of using the most appropriate treatment technologies on each of our projects to creat the most elegatn, cost-effective solution available. Please contact us if we can be of assistance on your project.