Humans have been tasked with wastewater management since the days of Rome and the cloaca maxima. The cloaca maxima was a sewer with the capacity to keep a city of close to a million people flowing by collecting waste and redirecting them to the nearest open water source, typically an ocean or river.
This development was key to building safer, more habitable cities in ancient Rome and turned the city into a hub of civilization. At the same time, it wasn’t really solving the problem of what to do with the waste - it was simply being moved to be a problem elsewhere.
Today, our understanding of pollution and its long-term effects have driven us to create new and less environmentally impactful methods of dealing with wastewater. The modern wastewater industry makes use of a multi-pronged primary and secondary approach in order to minimize the amount of untreated wastewater entering local water sources.
More recently, tertiary wastewater treatment has also become critical and is being implemented by more and more plants around the US. This extra step ensures that the final water product is clean, regulation-compliant, and sanitary enough to be used as drinking water.
Wastewater into drinking water? The idea still causes disgust to many that are unaware of the intricacies associated with getting a clean rating. That’s why this guide will be taking a closer look at the steps that go into wastewater treatment and why this revolutionary solution is keeping our water sources safer, cleaner and happier for all.
Behind The Scenes: What’s Happening In Wastewater Treatment Right Now
In order to feel more comfortable with the idea of wastewater being turned into drinking water, it’s important to get more familiar with how treatment plants work.
The majority of wastewater treatment plants will have two treatment types, the primary and secondary steps to processing wastewater. The primary treatment process removes as much as 70% of solids and removable materials including grit, debris, grease, oil, and other biosolids found in the water.
Following this initial treatment, the secondary step can take place. This step sees the wastewater be treated with biological treatments like aeration and the addition of activated materials used to break down any remaining biosolids.
Both of these steps are aimed at getting as much sediment out of the water as possible and bring the water closer to the final step of being discharged back into the environment.
Above we mentioned how tertiary wastewater treatments are now becoming more common. So how does this step come into play when the primary and secondary steps have already been followed?
The tertiary step adds a more rigorous treatment to the overall process. After going through primary and secondary treatment steps, wastewater may be safe enough to be released back into the environment, but not enough to be used as drinking water.
With tertiary treatment, however, water purification to drinking-safe standards is easily achievable. In fact, wastewater that has gone through all three steps is safe enough to be dispensed into delicate water ecosystems without causing pollution and damage.
At the same time, not all wastewater treatment plants are set up to do this additional step. They might not have the infrastructure, or want to be subjected to the strict checks that come in accordance with drinking water testing. Maintaining wastewater treatments can also be expensive, with many of the filtration materials and tools or equipment being the biggest expenses.
What Does Tertiary Wastewater Treatment Do Differently?
Tertiary wastewater treatment goes further than primary and secondary processes do, which is why it’s associated with drinking water. They typically work by combining different chemical and biological processes along with filtration and disinfection to achieve the final, crystal clear result.
Other common steps here will include biological nutrient removal, or nitrogen and phosphorus removal. Let’s discuss how these work in more detail below:
The components used in tertiary filtration contain a couple of different materials such as sand and activated carbon, although woven cloth is also sometimes used. These filters are then further broken up into bag filters, drum filters, and disc filters which are implemented at different parts of wastewater collection and treatment.
Bag filters are used in the most stringent of wastewater treatment plants, being especially effective for getting contaminants below a set micron rating. Drum filters on the other hand use cloth and gravity to send wastewater through the filter via the drum. This is useful for separating any remaining solids. Disc filters fulfill a similar purpose.
This part of the process will vary depending on the type of treatment being used and what the final intentions are for the water. Chlorine treatment is amongst the most commonly found, used because of how effective budget-friendly it is. This solution is however damaging to the environment and not safe for human consumption, and so dechlorination needs to take place before the treated water can be released.
In short, the cost of using chlorine can actually be much higher overall.
Then there is UV treatment. With this method, the wastewater is processed underneath dozens of UV lights which safely remove microorganisms and ensure that the remaining bacteria are non-harmful to humans and the environment. The downside here is that aggressive filtering of organic matter needs to take place beforehand to ensure there is nothing blocking the lights, and maintenance can be expensive.
Lastly, there are ozone treatments - ozone is able to destroy the majority of microorganisms without the toxicity offered by chlorine. This treatment is especially sought after by environmentalists as it forms no hazardous byproducts. A disadvantage is that it can be expensive to implement and maintain.
Following these steps and some final tests, the wastewater is considered to be ready to be released back into the environment. At this point, the water is also safe to be reused for drinking purposes and other manufacturing or agricultural needs that require clean water.
How Wastewater Treatment Can Still Be Improved
Despite coming a long way from the days of the cloaca maxima and free-flowing wastewater into the ocean, there are still many improvements to be made to the wastewater treatment process today.
A wastewater treatment plant’s needs are varied and difficult to balance - they need to meet regulatory guidelines, keep costs low, protect the environment, make a safer end-product and innovate at the same time. It’s no easy task, and no one solution has been a perfect fit thus far.
Healthy bacteria are the backbone of a wastewater treatment plant. In order to break down all the materials in the water, most resort to purchasing specialist equipment or chemical additives to achieve the rare all-clean rating. Think about activated carbon - it’s a great filtering material but it’s far from cost-effective, especially when purchasing at the scale needed for wastewater treatment plant.
Wouldn’t it be better if you could start building up the good bacteria used for natural processing long before the wastewater even reaches the plant’s treatment processes?
In-Pipe Technology offers an innovative natural biological solution to the problem of more sustainable microbial control, starting work from the second waste goes into the collection system. This means it will continue its work through all stages of the wastewater in-plant treatment, all while helping you make headway regulatory ceilings.
Functioning much like the human immune system, In-Pipe technology empowers good bacteria to create a large biological reactor with additional efficiencies that keep bad bacteria out. But what are the other benefits? And is this a good fit for every plant?
Benefits Of In-Pipe Technology
There are several advantages to implementing In-Pipe technology for wastewater treatment, and they aren’t just limited to affordability and extra efficiency (although those are great perks too!)
The first benefit is that in the primary steps of the treatment, the solids can be reduced more effectively into “food” sources for the good bacteria. This has been found to reduce unwanted sewer organics by as much as 40% and makes the primary wastewater treatment step much simpler.
The next benefit is that the organisms facilitated by In-Pipe can make use of both oxygen and nitrogen in their organics-consuming work, and they do so at a rate much higher than the bacteria in treatment plants without it. This ultimately means less nutrient removal is needed during step two, and the wastewater treatment plant will be able to cut how much carbon they use during water filtering processes.
The good bacteria introduced by In-Pipe mixes with the treatment plant microbes to create a doubly effective method of meeting discharge targets.
The whole idea behind In-Pipe is to make wastewater systems run smarter, not harder. Ideal for non-compliant plants wanting to decrease their pollutant levels and reach their decontamination targets, In-Pipe is the number one way to:
-Work with the environment. In-Pipe’s solution is natural and borne from the soil instead of chemicals that can have negative long-term effects. Good bacteria build a microbial community in your plant that is able to last for years to come.
-Be sure of a good fit. In-Pipe’s custom fitting option means you’ll always get the right fit for your treatment system’s requirements.
-Lower costs. Working with In-Pipe will cost less over the long term than many of the current chemical or specialist equipment solutions used in the industry.
Looking at these benefits, it’s clear that the world of wastewater treatment is steadily changing. The days of simply redirecting the problem have long gone, and in a time where the environment and water scarcity are becoming bigger concerns, new innovations like In-Pipe are the only way to sustainably move forward. It can also help the public rest more easily when it comes to considering their water safety.
By the year 2025, it’s estimated that as much as two-thirds of the world will be living in water-stressed regions. This makes paying attention to the benefits of wastewater treatment more essential than ever before - at some point in the future, it may be the only way to sustain not only aquatic ecosystems but also human life.
If your wastewater treatment plant is currently facing permit violations or just day-to-day challenges trying to keep your nutrient balance, learn more about In-Pipe’s innovative solution that uses your entire system as a solution by clicking here.