16.2.2 A Case Study of Integrated Waste Water Treatment

Wastewater including sewage can be treated in an integrated manner, by utilising a mix of artificial and natural processes. An example of such an initiative is the town of Arcata, situated along the northern coast of California.

Collaborating with biologists from the Humboldt State University, the townspeople created an integrated waste water treatment process within a natural system.

The cleaning occurs in two stages –

  • the conventional sedimentation, filtering and chlorine treatments are given. After this stage, lots of dangerous pollutants like dissolved heavy metals still remain. To combat this, an innovative approach was taken and
  • the biologists developed a series of six connected marshes over 60 hectares of marshland. Appropriate plants, algae, fungi and bacteria were seeded into this area, which neutralise, absorb and assimilate the pollutants.

Hence, as the water flows through the marshes, it gets purified naturally. The marshes also constitute a sanctuary, with a high level of biodiversity in the form of fishes, animals and birds that now reside there. A citizens group called Friends of the Arcata Marsh (FOAM) are responsible for the upkeep and safeguarding of this wonderful project.

All this time, we have assumed that removal of wastes requires water, i.e., the creation of sewage. But what if water is not necessary to dispose off human waste, like excreta?

Can you imagine the amount of water that one can save if one didn’t have to flush the toilet? Well, this is already a reality. Ecological sanitation is a sustainable system for handling human excreta, using dry composting toilets.

This is a practical, hygienic, efficient and cost-effective solution to human waste disposal. The key point to note here is that with this composting method, human excreta can be recycled into a resource (as natural fertiliser), which reduces the need for chemical fertilisers.

There are working ‘EcoSan’ toilets in many areas of Kerala and Sri Lanka.

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