Turning Sewage into Something Useful

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Today is World Water Day and what better way to celebrate than by talking about sewage?

The Stockholm Environment Institute, an international non-profit research and policy organization, released a report on how we can better handle human waste. When it comes to basic sanitation there is plenty of good news including that only 26% of the global population has access to sanitation which is down from 50% in 1990. The report this year looks at how we can use sewage in the circular economy including turning into power to fuel buses.

“We need to reevaluate our view on wastewater and human excreta. Today’s approach to disposal means lost opportunities in the form of nutrients and organic matter which are being flushed away,” says Kim Andersson, Senior Expert at the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the lead authors of Sanitation, Wastewater Management and Sustainability: From Waste Disposal to Resource Recovery. “Instead, we could use these materials to improve soils or produce clean burning, low carbon biogas. If cleaned properly, wastewater can even be turned into drinking water. Reusing this resource will generate new jobs and business models.”

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Floating Trash Bins a Great Success, May Influence Policies

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We’ve been following the installation and study of Seabins in Toronto for a while now. Good news just keeps happening from these floating garbage cans!

Floating trash collectors were put in the Toronto harbour a few years ago and the research team behind the project keeps finding interesting things. The University of Toronto’s Trash Team has realized that beyond keeping the water clean the bins can help identify sources of pollutants. With this increase in knowledge of how trash flows in water we can craft better policies to protect nature from human waste.

Since the Seabins were first installed, it’s been U of T Trash Team co-founder Chelsea Rochman’s job — along with team members like U of T student Cassandra Sherlock — to comb through what comes out of them.

Rochman is working on guidelines for classifying the waste that will eventually be put to use in communities around the province.

“Any type of trash trap does one thing really well… divert our plastic waste out of the Great Lakes,” she told CBC Toronto.

“But it also can involve policy because what we find tells us something about the source.”

Take those pre-production pellets that Fisher found all over an island beach in Lake Superior, which Rochman says also turn up regularly in the Toronto Seabins after blowing away from industrial sites.

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A More Robust Solar Desalination Solution

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You should drink more water. We all should drink more water, however in some places water wells are drying up and water is getting harder to get. Fortunately for us, we have a lot of ocean to drink from. Costal cities have increasingly looking towards desalination as a solution to their water problems.

Producing clean drinking water from the sea is an energy-intensive process which makes it expensive to run. Researches in Australia recently found a way to combine solar power with a new material to filter salt out of water in an incredibly efficient way.

Wang and his colleagues explain in the study that a sustainable energy source, like sunlight, would be especially useful for communities that may not have access to a reliable electric grid necessary for other methods of desalination.

“This study has successfully demonstrated that the photoresponsive [metal compounds] are a promising, energy-efficient, and sustainable adsorbent for desalination,” said Wang. “Our work provides an exciting new route for the design of functional materials for using solar energy to reduce the energy demand and improve the sustainability of water desalination.”

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Town uses Beer Waste to Save Money

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Waste water is a headache to deal with since it’s a complex soup of bacteria and other tiny elements which vary day to day. When a brewery puts its waste into the sewage system it can really mess things up for the facilities cleaning waste water since the chemical balance changes so drastically. A town in Montana decided to work with their local brewery to turn that negative impact into a positive one and it worked like a charm!

If you home-brew beer you should dump your leftovers from the brewing process on your garden. It’s great for the plants and, trust me, it works.

Because it’s rich in yeast, hops and sugar, brewery waste can throw off the microbes that wastewater treatment plants rely on to remove nitrogen and phosphorus. The two nutrients can cause algae blooms in rivers and kill off fish.

“But if we can use [brewery waste] correctly and put it in the right spot, it’s very beneficial to the process,” engineering consultant Coralynn Revis says.

Revis led a pilot project here last summer to try to do just that. Bozeman worked with a local brewery to feed its beer waste to the treatment plant’s bacteria at just the right time in just the right dosage.

“This is super-simplified, but like, if they’re eating their french fries, they need a little ketchup with it. So to get the nitrate out, you dose a little carbon, and the bugs are happier,” Revis explained.

She says it worked.

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Washington State Limits Water Profiteering

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Water is a necessity for life and is the most previous resource on the planet as a result. Currently we allow massive mega-corporations to destroy ecosystems to seal water in little packets which they then sell for astronomical profits. In Ontario this issue has been raging and it looks like the “Conservative” government is only concerned with preserving the profits of a foreign company. In Washington State the opposite is happening: there they are standing up for water and ensuring that the preservation of life comes before the preservation of profits.

“Washington State is carving the path towards a groundbreaking solution,” said Mary Grant, the director of Food & Water Action’s public water for all campaign, in a statement. “This legislation … would ban one of the worst corporate water abuses – the extraction of local water supplies in plastic bottles shipped out of watersheds and around the country.”

Bottled water is the most popular packaged beverage in America by volume. But in the places where that water is sourced, the industry has enjoyed far less approval. Residents of Lewis county, in the watershed at the base of Mt St Helens in southwest Washington, have been fighting a new Crystal Geyser bottling plant that would pump and package 400 gallons a minute. SB 6278 would scuttle the company’s plans.

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