Where does sewage go?

As city dwellers in an increasingly urbanised and highly populated country, this is a critical question to ask. When you run the flush in the toilet in your home or office, the waste material, water, toilet paper and everything else in the toilet bowl is pushed down a pipe typically called the sewer. From here, it either makes its way into a septic tank on premise – either in the backyard or underground – or flows further out beyond premises to join a larger sewerage pipe facility run by the municipality.

With the exception of large cities with sewage networks, sewage is managed by septic tanks on premise, not only in the case of independent houses but also societies and residential clusters. All this waste makes its way through the drains into the septic tank, where dense matter settles at the bottom of the tank while liquid goes into the soak away pit from where it percolates into the soil.

The sewer pipes running out of homes and offices also gather other kinds of waste along the way. This could be waste water from the kitchen – cooking, waste liquid food, as well as from washing utensils, gardening water, mud and waste, soapy water and remnants from the bathrooms – from the shower area as well as from cleaning the bathrooms and/or washing clothes. All of this forms what we typically call sewage, and it travels through a network of collection pipes that we call sewerage pipes. In case of septic tanks, scum buildup can sometimes clog the influent side of the tank, causing a sewage backup into the home and foul smell.

The role of sewerage pipes in large cities is to collect and transport all the sewage from individual establishments – homes, workplaces, schools, buildings, parks, gardens – and all other civic establishments to larger sewerage pipes from where it makes a long journey to a treatment plant. This is a complex network of pipe systems that run under and over the ground, meticulously. Some of the larger pipes can be as large as vehicles and transport an unimaginable volume of waste collected form huge spans of land and urban settlements.

Most towns and cities have sewage treatment plants, which are like massive processing units where the wastewater is treated, toxic materials separated and a return flow of water back into the system is set off. Since sewage coming into a plant contains a lots of germs, bacteria and toxic material, it has to be handled safely and efficiently so as to eliminate the possibility of people coming into contact with it. The process of treating wastewater consists of – screening, aeration and sedimentation and finally disinfection. This way, everything from solid waste like things that may have been accidentally flushed like coins, plastic, jewellery, etc to nebulous biochemical waste is removed from the water.

A large amount of chemicals are then pumped into the wastewater to clean it up and rid it of all these harmful bits and disinfect it of as many germs as possible. This is a long process that can take up to 7-10 days sometimes before the water is ready to be released into the system again. The treated water is then gradually, through another network of pipes, released back into local waterways such as rivers, streams and in coastal places, the ocean too. Treated water released into rivers also eventually makes its way into the oceans.

This is why it is crucial to examine what goes into our waste water, and know and understand where it goes once it leaves our home. This is why it’s time to start examining what we put in our cleaning products and how toxic the waste water we create is. The health of our waterways, oceans and all the living beings – plants, animals and humans – coming into contact with these ecosystems depends on it. Untreated water or water that is too riddled with chemical waste outside the scope of what can be safely managed by the treatment plant, when released back into local waterways can cause water pollution. Over the years this not only affects the quality of the water itself but also the surrounding ecosystem.

This cycle begins right at the source – our homes. Whether your waste goes into a septic tank or through a sewage system what you put down your drain and then turn a blind eye to, eventually impacts the health of our local waterworks and ecosystem. Here are a few ways to be aware and conscious of your contribution to wastewater.

1.      Flush responsibly: Ensure that you are safely and responsibly disposing waste in your home. It is not advisable to pour household products such as strong cleansers, beauty products, medicines, chemical paints, gardening products down the drain in your home. These are better collected and batch disposed at the local household hazardous waste facility. Every locality ought to have one and it’s well worth finding out where the facility closest to you is. Wastewater treatment facilities are designed to treat organic waste, and hazardous chemicals often go untouched and unprocessed right back into local waterways where they can wreak havoc in the long run.

2.     Avoid clogging waterways: Material that could potentially clog pipes, like dense cooking fats, sanitary napkins, disposable diapers, condoms and the like are meant to go into the solid waste bins and not down the toilet. While they may be pushed through your immediate sewerage pipes, they could collect further downstream and cause huge blockages in septic tanks and sewerage pipe systems which can cause breaks in the system or outflow of harmful and poisonous waste.

3.     Turn to natural cleaning agents: Household cleaning products when mixed with water and then drained away from our homes are one of the leading causes of hazardous chemicals being leeched into our environments. Examine what’s in your cleaning equipment and choose those that are natural, and safe not just for use in your home, but also for the environment. ThinkSafe is our range of non-toxic, non-corrosive, ammonia and chlorine-free biodegradable home cleaning products that have been developed keeping this in mind. The line of products is made entirely from plant-based ingredients for a microbe-friendly, pH-balanced and chemical-free solution to cleaning, built around the need to safeguard and restore the biology and ecology in the areas of use.

Post by Khushboo Shroff