We flush our toilets and use our sinks many times a day and never really think about where all that water goes. We would like to believe that our sewage company will treat the wastewater in a safe and eco-friendly manner. However, this is not always true and we can help them do a better job once we understand how the process works and its limitations.
In most places, our sewage is reintegrated as treated water into a river or lake where water is collected for reuse or discharged into the sea. Consequently, most wastewater will eventually end up as drinking water or in swimming spots and it is our responsibility to use water wisely. Besides that, incorrect disposal of rubbish with wastewater can cause blockages and flooding, affecting us and others.
In the UK, 96% of the population lives in homes connected to sewage treatment systems, which makes it easier to monitor and control but it still faces many challenges. The first problem is that, as many industries in the country, sewage plants often rely on non-renewable sources of energy to function. Sewage treatment is energy intensive, especially in crowded urban areas where wastewater contains a higher diversity of incorrectly disposed items. In these areas treatment often requires additional stages.
Moreover, the sludge separated from the wastewater on the first stage of the treatment is often incinerated or sent to landfill, causing air, land and groundwater pollution. More than 20% of the sludge is incinerated to provide energy for the sewage plant but as any combustion process, it releases greenhouse gases (GHG), contributing to pollution and climate change.
Improperly flushing material other than human waste and toilet paper often causes blockages due to the accumulation of solid material such as cotton buds, pads, tampons, nappies and others or by the solidification of oil and grease on the pipes. Do not flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper. Be careful not to pour any cooking oil or fat down the sink. This should be disposed in small amounts with your food waste or kept in sealed containers until solidified to be disposed of with general waste or at a recycling centre. Search for a recycling centre that collects cooking oil by selecting “Liquids and Chemicals”, then “Kitchen oils” and informing your postcode on this link.
You can also help by re-using water. Most of the water we dispose of could actually be used again to flush the toilet and water the plants. Unfortunately, traditional sewage systems do not separate greywater (proper for re-use) from blackwater. Even if you don’t have a greywater system you can use buckets or containers to collect water from your washing machine, sinks and rainwater. Make sure to not use on your plants water that is stored for more than 24 hours (unless filtered or treated) to prevent bacterial infection nor water contaminated with chemicals such as bleach. Most detergents and soaps should be fine but if you are not sure, re-use the water just to flush the toilet.
Water is a precious resource so reuse water as much as you can and flush only human waste and toilet paper down the toilet. You can also follow our water conservation tips, build a simple rainwater harvesting system and make use of water efficient fixtures to Green It Yourself Now!