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|Quentin Cooper looks at the latest in sanitation technology.|
We don’t like to think too hard about what goes down our toilets, but with increasing pressure on water resources and with landfill sites over-flowing, it could be time to re-assess our whole approach to sewage.
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Many water scientists argue that our attitude towards the age old problem of dealing with human waste is under-developed. We take “dark water” out of homes to centralised treatment works which only partly deal with the problem. Conventional sewage treatment systems empty vast amounts of water back into the sea and leave behind sedimented sludge which still needs to be disposed of.
But now, developments in water technology are enabling engineers to think about more sustainable systems of sewage treatment. Advanced membranes can filter dark water from the sewer to produce drinking water in under two hours. With a treatment procedure this efficient, the option of re-cycling the water that goes down our sewers becomes feasible, saving vast amounts of water for reservoirs and rivers. Sludge, which goes onto farmers fields, or into landfill, is now being turned into everything from bricks to fertiliser for golf courses. More radical is the approach that suggests we should treat our own sewage in our own homes. Advanced methods of composting could revolutionise the toilet as we know it. But all this depends on the British public changing its “out of sight, out of mind” attitude to human faeces.
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