By Aqua Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett
Today, 4.5 billion people in the world live without a household toilet that safely disposes of their waste, according to the United Nations. In communities with weak sanitation infrastructure, pipework can break and raw sewage can be emptied into the environment. This puts waste into the open air where it is spread by flies, or contaminates farmland and water sources to make people seriously ill.
World Toilet Day, a day of observation designated by the United Nations General Assembly, provides an opportunity for global entities to work together to inspire action and tackle this sanitation crisis.
In the United States, it’s easy for consumers to take for granted the intense wastewater treatment process that occurs when water goes down a drain or toilet. Aqua, for instance, provides wastewater services to more than 250,000 people throughout the eight states we serve, and we operate 185 wastewater treatment plants and collection systems to safely treat this water.
Our company uses a stringent seven-step wastewater treatment process before returning the water to rivers and streams using the highest environmental standards. The wastewater is first transported from homes, schools and businesses to one of our treatment plants via underground pipes, where screens and other mechanisms remove materials like paper, rocks and sand. The third step, known as primary clarification, occurs when oil and grease float to the top of the water and are skimmed off, while heavier materials sink to the bottom of the tanks and are removed.
The water then moves to biological treatment and final clarification, during which microscopic organisms break down organic material in the wastewater. After this point, the primarily clear liquid flows through final clarification before it is sent through filtration, where the majority of remaining suspended particles are removed from the water. In the sixth step, disinfection, ultraviolet light and other treatment methods are used to kill all disease-causing organisms. The seventh step occurs when the treated water is discharged either for irrigation or put back into local rivers and streams.
Each day, Aqua returns 29 million gallons of wastewater into bodies of water cleaner than it came out. This clean water is critical to our water supplies, and is also critical to the fish and flora that need it to survive.
But in so many other areas of the world, countries are struggling to properly dispose of and treat the water to keep their human population healthy. The U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, include a target to ensure that everyone across the globe has access to a safely managed household toilet by 2030.
Aqua works to help developing countries by providing water infrastructure expertise in Central America each year, and there are ways we all can help to promote the importance of wastewater treatment during World Toilet Day. By visiting the World Toilet Day website, you can learn more about the issue and share information with your networks to promote this important cause.