Tackling ocean pollution and why plastic is not the only issue to solve

Lately you would have seen a lot of news about the dire state of our oceans thanks to increased awareness of the perils of plastic consumption and the spate of measures governments and corporations across the world have been taking to reduce the impact of plastic pollution on our seas. As dire as the scenario with plastic is, another way we’ve been choking our seas relentlessly is by dumping millions of litres of untreated wastewater into them every day.

There is a large amount of pollutants that reach our seas from land like petroleum waste, pesticide runoff and even sedimentary waste. Offshore activities like ocean-based dumping also contribute to the pollution in our seas. One of the biggest contaminants of our pure blue waters though is human sewage. Yes, that means poop. But it also includes wastewater from our washing and our laundry and our kitchen drains. Wastewater that also includes organic waste from food scraps, including animal and vegetable matter. This sewage also includes oils and grease in organic waste and also a whole load of chemicals from all the cleaning products we use at home.

In fact, estimates say that 80% of all marine pollution is due to land-based pollutants including sewage and municipal waste and agricultural run-off.

This waste, apart from all the elements in human sewage, also includes persistent organic pollutants and radioactive material and heavy metals like mercury and arsenic and hydrocarbons, each of which individually (and collectively) causes untold damage to the water, to marine ecosystems, to the environment and because these are multi-generational cyclical issues, they end up posing grave threats to human lives and livelihoods. All this waste that ends up in our oceans then enters the food stream of marine life and from there, it enters our food stream too, leading to diseases like cancer, liver ailments, developmental issues, and impacting our immune and endocrine systems too.

Untreated, or even partially treated sewage, increases the pathogenic microbe concentrations in our seas. Waterborne pathogens can cause contact illnesses and often end up getting accidentally consumed too. These microbes also cause foodborne illnesses because they find hosts in the tissues of seafood we consume. Even a simple trip to the beach can expose you to these microbes, leaving you at risk for a wide variety of illnesses.

Access to clean water for all by 2030 is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. But the definition of this goal only extends to direct human needs. However, clean water is equally important for aquatic plants and animals to survive and prosper. Our marine habitats require clean water not just for the life within them but for the life they sustain too. Our oceans are phenomenal biodiversity hotspots and this biodiversity cannot be sustained without clean water. Our health is directly impacted by the pathogens we’re releasing into our waters. From a public health perspective, it is absolutely critical that we ensure our oceans carry clean water.

And the best way to ensure our oceans stay clean is to ensure that all wastewater that reaches our oceans reaches there only after it has been completely treated.

Municipal wastewater, which includes household and business wastewater, in any case, is supposed to be treated at wastewater treatment plants before the wastewater is released. Often though, these wastewater treatment plants operate sub-optimally and the wastewater treatment techniques they employ may not be as efficient as required. A lot of domestic wastewater is treated locally at septic tanks. But because we end up dumping a lot of hazardous waste and chemicals into our waste, these septic tanks too are not operating as efficiently as they should. Added to that is the lack of maintenance and chemical solutions used for remediation in the septic tanks and they actually end up leaching more wastewater into the ground than they treat. Industrial waste is mandated by regulation to be treated on-site with strict discharge norms stipulated by environment protection guidelines. However, because of inefficient treatment practises, industrial wastewater is often not treated completely and the effluent parameters end up way in excess of prescribed norms.

The best solution to this problem is to ensure that all wastewater treatment makes optimum use of biological treatment. Using naturally occuring microbes, biological treatment can degrade organic waste more completely, including residue left over from primary treatments.

At Organica Biotech, we have been marrying science and nature with 19 years of research to create the best natural solutions to deal with the most urgent issues facing our planet today. And we have created microbial solutions that address all aspects of wastewater treatment optimally and efficiently.

Industrial wastewater is difficult to degrade and contains toxic organic and inorganic pollutants. Sewage on the other hand contains a lot of pathogens which can otherwise be killed by chlorine treatments. We have created the perfect solution to treat both industrial wastewater and sewage using microbes.

Bioclean is a consortium of naturally occurring microbes and active enzymes that can degrade a wide spectrum of organic pollutants, including tough to degrade wastewater pollutants. The carefully selected microbes in Bioclean can withstand a wide range of climatic and environmental conditions and function across a broad spectrum in any environment. Industrial wastewater treatment plants are often affected by high BOD/COD levels and high TDS coupled with excess sludge generation. Bioclean works on mitigating all these issues. Bioclean is equally effective at biomass settling and managing shock loads and toxicity while also resolving colour and odour issues in the effluent.

To address different wastewater concerns, our R&D team has developed many variants of Bioclean. One such variant is Bioclean ANB, the most effective solution for anaerobic wastewater treatment. Especially useful in food processing plants and also for treating municipal wastewater, chemical effluent, and agricultural waste, Bioclean ANB can degrade almost all natural and manmade organic contaminants. Bioclean ANB also ensures odourless degradation. Foul odour is usually caused by the production of hydrogen sulphide in the waste and also because of incomplete degradation. The carefully chosen microbial strains in Bioclean ANB ensure no putrefaction during the degradation and the potent microbes ensure complete degradation of organic matter. Being an anaerobic process, Bioclean ANB also reduces power consumption at treatment plants.

Another Bioclean variant, Bioclean STP, has been specially created to manage the issues pertaining to sewage treatment. High levels of sludge generation, extreme odours, poor quality biomass formation, poor treated water quality, ineffective COD/BOD reduction, poor MLSS development and uncontrolled proliferation of pathogenic organisms are some of the major issues with sewage treatment. Bioclean STP addresses all the issues in the most efficient manner with microbes that have been carefully chosen to biologically degrade the various types of organic waste in sewage. These microbes consume organic compounds in the sewage as food and also compete with the other bacteria present in the sewage to reduce the population of pathogens in the sewage as well.

Yet another variant, Bioclean FOG, has been scientifically created for biological remediation of oil pollution. Introduction of hydrocarbons from oil into water and soil can be harmful on multiple levels. Degradation of oil depends on several factors: the physical and chemical nature of the oil, availability of nutrients and oxygen in the environment, the temperature of water/soil, pressure, pH levels and presence of microbes. Bioclean FOG specially designed for faster, effective and economical remediation of hydrocarbons in soil and water. The carefully formulated microbial consortium in Bioclean FOG breaks down oil hydrocarbons into simpler compounds that like carbon dioxide and water.

It is excellent news that there are urgent, large-scale interventions happening to mitigate the effects of plastic pollution and individuals are becoming increasingly conscious of their plastic footprint and how our use of plastic affects our planet. However, the same level of conscientiousness has not yet permeated through to how wastewater pollutes our oceans. This is as much of a critical issue as plastic pollution and we need the same urgency and drive from corporations, governments and individuals to ensure we can preserve our oceans. With our solutions, municipal bodies, housing societies, industrial wastewater treatment plants can all ensure that the wastewater released into our oceans is fully treated and free of toxic chemicals and pathogens.

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