By Darrell Rodgers, PhD, Public Health — Seattle & King County, for Public Health Insider.
Public health is committed to preventing disease and death from water-borne pathogens. Modern sanitation, including wastewater treatment, is key to keeping our waters clean and the people and animals that live here healthy. But the efficiency of modern sanitation creates an interesting problem.
Today, our waste is “out of sight, out of mind” as soon as we flush the toilet or as soon as the water disappears down the drain. We might know that dirty water goes somewhere, and it gets cleaned. What we don’t know is how the process works, how we affect it, what happens to that waste, and how it is treated to prevent the spread of illness from pathogens.
Most people aren’t aware of the value of our waste. Calling it “waste” makes our dirty water seem like a throwaway commodity. In fact, it is a very valuable resource.
King County recognizes that value, and turns our waste into resources, while keeping our waters clean. Additional filtration and disinfection creates high-quality, odor-free recycled water that can be used to clean streets and water athletic fields and farms. Using recycled water keeps water in rivers and streams for people and fish.
The water isn’t the only source of renewable resources. During the treatment process of the solids in wastewater (the poop and the food, microorganisms break down the material and release biogas. Biogas creates renewable energy to help power the treatment plants and provide energy for homes and businesses
The same microorganisms that release biogas also create biosolids, which King County calls Loop®. The wastewater treatment process kills pathogens and harmful bacteria and produces Loop, a nutrient-rich, fertilizer-like product that plants love. Biosolids may seem revolutionary, but returning nutrients and organic matter to the land is a time-tested form of recycling. Since the dawn of agriculture, farmers around the world have used human and animal waste to grow food. Agriculture feeds people, but demands a lot from soils, which can become depleted and less productive without organic inputs. Farmers look for ways to keep that soil healthy and productive, and biosolids such as Loop help accomplish that.
Here in King County, population growth and climate change mean that growing enough food demands more and more from our soils. Climate change threatens the health of our future communities. To help fight climate change, King County recycles 100% of the solids (the poop and the food) as Loop. For more than 40 years, Loop has returned valuable nutrients and organic matter to the soil to grow crops, fertilize working forests, and restore degraded sites into healthy landscapes.
Today, we are more aware of our limited resources and the need to use them wisely while protecting our health and our environment. At King County, we know the value of recovering resources to reduce waste and to ensure the public’s health is protected. King County produces Loop according to precise standards. Unlike synthetic fertilizer, or even manure, Loop is held to stringent environmental regulations. As we mimic nature’s cleaning powers, engineering and technology allows us to test and monitor the entire process to ensure the safety and efficacy of Loop.