Drinking water can come from treated sewage. Really! It’s true. Even toilet water and sewage can be refined through a process that removes contaminants like human waste, household chemicals, and industrial by-products through physical, chemical, and biological treatment so sewage can be converted back into safe drinking water.
Many places around the United States and the world have to deal with limited water supplies and increasingly large amounts of sewage. Through specific treatment processes waste water in Windhoek, Namibia, the country of Singapore, Fairfax, Virginia and Orange County, California (just to name a few locations) are already recycling sewer water. Many people are grossed out by the idea of toilet water turning into drinking water from their tap but it’s actually quite safe. According to a recent article, the Orange County Water District reports that “about 10% of household water typically comes from toilets, while the rest comes from showers, sinks and laundry machines.” So how does it work?
The Treatment Process
- Waste water flows through sewer pipes from your home, school, or business to a Sewage Treatment Plant.
- Solid waste is first separated from liquid waste.
- Through a process called microfiltration, water is then filtered through a membrane with extremely small holes, hundreds of times smaller than a human hair, to trap bacteria.
- Next, the water goes through a reverse-osmosis process where it is forced through a semi-permeable membrane that blocks salt, viruses, and pharmaceuticals.
- The final treatment step involves high-intensity ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide process that kills all organic material.
Even portable toilet water can be treated and reclaimed using this method. So, yes, you might just be drinking portable toilet waste in your next glass of water! But don’t worry, water treated with this process is often cleaner than what can be bought as bottled water in a grocery store.
Did You Know?
- In the United States, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulates tap water with generally stricter rules than those that apply to bottled water, which is regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
- No additional federal laws apply to US recycled wastewater.
- Much of the recycled water produced around the world is used for agricultural irrigation.
Sewage Impact on Outdoor Destinations
With the growing number of people enjoying state and national parks in the United States, there has been an increase in the need to manage their waste. Utilizing technological improvements in portable toilet technology has led to new ways to both preserve natural resources and improve the experiences for the public at large. According to the Bureau of Land Management, using pack-it-out toilet systems especially those that can be cleaned and reused are ideal because they reduce environmental impact and can be used multiple times.
Some remote hiking and backpacking locations will have designated areas or structures to be used as bathrooms. Only human waste and toilet paper are allowed in these toilet systems. Using dry base ingredients such as potting soil, kitty litter, and dirt allows for the natural bacterial process to break down and decompose waste. If the correct proportions of dry base ingredients are applied, even unpleasant odors can kept away. Always make sure any backcountry toilet area is at least 100 feet from water sources and be sure to follow all posted rules for use.