Toilet to Tap – Not as Horrendous as You’d Think!

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According to the Water Project, 783 million people across the globe do not have access to clean water. To put this in perspective, one out of nine people must consume unsanitary or hazardous water. Meanwhile, in America, we spend billions of dollars to treat every source of water we have – including in our toilets. Some would even say that toilet water is drinking water quality. If this is true, then we flush out almost 24 gallons of clean water per day. As a country, this equates to 5.8 billion gallons of water per day that is going to waste.

But Wait, Where Does Our Toilet Water Go?

Our toilet water ultimately goes back to a river, lake, or ocean. It must be treated first, however. Sewage treatment consists of three stages: a primary treatment, a secondary treatment, and finally a tertiary treatment. The process is as follows:

Primary Treatment – Larger particles including sand and silt are removed by flowing across screens and along a lagoon or settling basin. Sludge (insoluble particles) forms at the bottom of the body of water, and liquid grease (including fats, oils, waxes, and soap that has reacted with calcium or magnesium ions) collects at the top. At this point, 80% of solids have been removed, but the water is still unsanitary. If released into the ocean, it could be very detrimental to fish life.

Secondary Treatment – Biochemical reactions take place here. Microorganisms (or bacteria) oxidize the organic material not removed in the previous stage. This will again form sludge that collects at the bottom.

Tertiary Treatment – Specific substances are removed at this point. The substances that are removed depends on the locale. Dissolved organic compounds, colloidal material, phosphates, heavy-metals, iron, or inorganic ions can be removed.

Indirect Potable Reuse: A Solution to Reduce Waste

Because of this issue, many cities (mainly in California) have been exploring the idea of recycling potable water into drinking water. One method is called the Indirect Potable Reuse, and the process is as follows:

  1. Tertiary-treated water will be microfiltrated using advanced technology. This strains out any remaining solids.
  2. The water will undergo reverse osmosis. Under high pressure, the water will be pushed through a membrane. This will remove viruses, bacteria, and pharmaceuticals.
  3. Water will then be disinfected by ultraviolet light, ozone, or hydrogen peroxide.
  4. Water will be deposited into groundwater or surface water reservoirs. It will stay there for approximately 6 months to be purified by natural processes.
  5. Finally, the recycled water will go through the standard water purification process. By doing so, the water meets US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.

Several studies on recycled water have been conducted. Scientists have found that there are no adverse health conditions in populations using recycled water. They have acknowledged, however, that the recycled water can still contain pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and industrial chemicals. Therefore, long-term exposure effects are still unknown.


Water conservation has been a major concern for our world, and drinking recycled water is a small sacrifice for a greater good. The “toilet to tap” motto is mainly used by those that are misinformed or uninformed. By launching public campaigns that promote and explain the process of recycling water, I think that the public would be more open to the idea. I also think that scientists should research more into the presence of pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and chemicals in recycled water. Their input is extremely valuable to society. Therefore, if they can prove that the process truly kills the remaining microorganisms, then there would be little reason for the public to be opposed to drinking recycled water. In order to work towards sustainability, we must all keep each other informed.

(Don’t be this guy).

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5 thoughts on “Toilet to Tap – Not as Horrendous as You’d Think!

  1. Just the first two or three water treatment steps of Indirect Potable Reuse, followed by addition of minerals, is how Dasani bottled water is made. Nice post!

  2. The idea of toilet to tap is disgusting no matter how highly purified the water ends up!
    Most people who know about it hate it but are too busy with the demands of life to do anything about it.
    Recycled water should be used for industry, golf courses and landscaping. This is being done at the San Diego water treatment plant near University City.
    At the same place water destined for drinking is also being produced on a relatively small scale prior to greatly expanding it in years ahead. This expansion project should be killed … let the public decide!
    We have the Encina plant in Carlsbad producing excellent water from the ocean by desalination though at a somewhat higher energy cost. It is plants like that we should build. There is in fact plenty of space to become available when the defunct power station right next to it gets demolished.
    Lets take out the Yuk factor from our drinking water!

    • Hi John, I’m curious if you have considered that all water is recycled. The water in San Diego is the end of the Colorado River, meaning it has been through many water and wastewater facilities on its way there. Essentially the safe drinking water has been in a toilet countless times. The treatment processes are impressive.

  3. The RO, water produced has been found to be very high in tritium. Tritium water cannot be sepatated from nonradioactive water. I asked the company if they were getting the industrial source water from the,San onofre waste pond. A response never came back whuch is suspect. Whether the product water is safe to drink longterm depends on knowing the contaminants present in the source water.

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