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:
- Tertiary-treated water will be microfiltrated using advanced technology. This strains out any remaining solids.
- The water will undergo reverse osmosis. Under high pressure, the water will be pushed through a membrane. This will remove viruses, bacteria, and pharmaceuticals.
- Water will then be disinfected by ultraviolet light, ozone, or hydrogen peroxide.
- Water will be deposited into groundwater or surface water reservoirs. It will stay there for approximately 6 months to be purified by natural processes.
- 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).
Article Referenced on Ponder: