Repurposing wastewater could help stop the planet from circling the drain

A company is taking the water from your toilet bowl and turning it into something good enough to drink.

Every day, millions of people in the US wash their hands, flush toilets, and take showers.

A white toilet on a blue and black swirled background.

All of that water — ~34B gallons worth — goes down the drain and through the pipes before being processed at a treatment facility and released into nature.

But with water becoming an increasingly scarce resource, a company called Epic Cleantec is rethinking how wastewater gets recycled, per Wired.

  • The company intercepts grey water — which is dirty but doesn’t contain human waste or food — then filters, disinfects, and recycles the water back into toilet bowls.
  • It’s working on a system to process black water — which does include human waste and kitchen sink nastiness — removing pathogens and turning it into soil amendment.
  • It’s also developing tech to extract energy from wastewater and use it to warm a building’s clean water, reducing energy consumption.

While cities and towns have already been tackling ways to recycle wastewater, Epic Cleantec is bringing those processes to a smaller scale, like individual apartment buildings.

If high-rises could recycle their own water, it would reduce reliance on municipal wastewater recycling.

Next up…

… is figuring out how to tackle the sludge problem. (Could that word be any grosser?)

Solid human waste, AKA sludge, is loaded with carbon and chemicals, making it harder to recycle.

But there are already some cool techniques on the horizon, like pyrolysis — a process in which organic matter is heated and turned into biochar, a form of concentrated carbon that can be buried underground or used for farming.

Waste not, want not

By 2050, an estimated 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. And since the use of wastewater scales superlinearly — meaning it outpaces population growth — cities could potentially be huge drains on the water supply.

San Diego’s already on it. The city has been recycling wastewater since 1981 for farming and industrial use, and will be able to produce drinking water by 2026 following state approval. By 2035, it aims to provide half the city’s drinking water that way.

Our favorite application for wastewater recycling? Epic Cleantec’s grey water beer.

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