Having a shower, flushing the toilet, washing the fruits, doing the dishes or doing laundry have one thing in common: Wastewater ending up in the sewerage system.
But why do we need Sewerage systems at all?
The household wastewater contains all kinds of things that can pollute the environment, if it goes back untreated:
Cooking oil, detergents, strong chemicals from cleaning agents, poo, urine, antibiotics (through our urine, or just by throwing old medicine down the sink!). The list can go on.
The strong chemicals and the antibiotics, will kill good bacteria, and disturb the natural balance. They will also pollute the soil, and the water that we will later need to collect for drinking. Trees and animals will drink the polluted water, and here starts the vicious domino!
The biodegradables like poo, urine and cooking oil, will cause overblooming of algae, which will again destroy the natural balance, finally causing less oxygen in our oceans, which is deadly for the marine life (read more on eutrophication). And here starts the vicious domino again!
The aim of a sewage treatment plant, is to treat all that wastewater and rid it of as many of the harmful elements as possible, before releasing it back to the environment.
Not all sewage treatment plants can handle all harmful elements though. And here comes the part where you can help, by properly disposing of household liquids, recycling, unburdening the sewage system of all that work, and ultimately contributing to a clean environment and a happy nature!
So let’s have a look in the most common liquids a household may have.
The main problem you will hear about pouring cooking oil down the sink, is that it loses temperature, it solidifies, it piles up and blocks the pipes of your home or even worse the sewerage system. This in return can lead to flooding, health hazards and environmental degradation.
But what about how it pollutes the environment directly?
Wastewater Treatment Plants use certain organisms to eat and digest the organic substances of biodegradable waste such as poo. Cooking oil is biodegradable. If it makes its way to the treatment plant, those organisms will get an overload and become fatigued. In this way the efficiency of the whole treatment plant diminishes.
If the cooking oil actually makes its way to the ocean, we have a similar problem. It will bring extra nutrients to the water, which will cause extra blooming of algae, which will lead to oxygen depletion, which will lead to dead marine life. (Read again about eutrophication).
So please collect your used fats, oils and grease in sealed containers, and contact your nearest waste disposal facility to find out the most appropriate method of disposal. After a meal, wipe the remaining oil from your plates and cooking pots with a paper towel, and throw it in the trash. This is even suggested in countries that burn waste for heating, since oil boosts the burning process.
Learn more on Cooking Oil Recycling here.
There is no way for a Water Treatment Plant to remove medications from the sewage. They will end up in the oceans. Having said that, let’s see how drugs actually pollute the environment.
Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria, good and bad, no discriminations. So for starters, antibiotics will disturb the natural balance only by uncontrollably killing microorganisms. This in turn will cause bad bacteria to become resistant and stronger, and they will infect bigger organisms around them. The chain reaction is on!
Other medicine can cause certain species to breed less, feed less, be eaten less, or even die. Overpopulation or underpopulation of any species destroys the natural balance.
It is no overstatement to say that drugs in the ocean can lead to a wildlife crisis.
Don’t be a part of that. Take your old medicine back to any pharmacy, and hand it over for proper disposal. They will know what to do.
They might keep our homes clean, but we cannot say the same about our oceans, where they end up in. Depending on their ingredients, detergents can be toxic and extremely harmful to the underwater life. Even the biodegradable ones can have poisonous effects.
They destroy the external mucus layers that protect the fish from bacteria and parasites, and they can severely damage the gills. Concentrations of detergents as high as 15 parts per million (ppm) will kill most fish. Fish eggs will die by concentrations of even 5ppm.
The effect that detergents have on the water surface tension, makes fish absorb much more chemicals (like pesticides).
Last but not least, phosphates in detergents can cause algal blooms, which causes oxygen depletion, which kills the marine life (by now you must be an expert on eutrophication).
Of course all this happens when big quantities of detergents make their way into the sea. We don’t want to stop using them to clean our houses, but if you have an old bottle full of any cleaning agent that you want to get rid of, you might want to think twice before flushing it or pouring it down the sink.
The best thing to do is find out if you have a recycling option for detergents in your area. Worst case, throw it in the trash. There are good chances that it will end up in a landfill with impermeable lining, which will prevent the liquid from entering the soil.
Cosmetics, personal hygiene
Shower gels, face scrubs, exfoliating body scrubs and toothpastes. You guessed well: Microbeads! Tons of microbeads make their way into our oceans every year only by us using them.
Microbeads are tiny little particles made of plastic, which are added to such products.
Sewage treatment plants cannot handle them, because they are too light to settle at the bottom of the tanks. Instead they float, and it is impossible to prevent them from entering the oceans.
Plastic is porous, and absorbs all the pollutants and heavy metals in the sea. The microbeads surface therefore becomes coated in toxic chemicals. The fish that will eat them will be poisoned.
Poisoning is not the only problem though. The fish cannot digest the microbeads, which results in pilling up inside their guts, leaving no room for actual food! The damage of the marine life by microbeads is inevitable.
The best waste is the one that was never created in the first place. We do not only urge you to not throw such products down the sink, but also not use them at all in the first place!
Good news is that consumers nowadays do have the option of purchasing eco-friendly products. Check the ingredients of your products for microbeads, or otherwise labeled as polyethylene(PE), polypropylene(PP), polyethylene terephthalate(PET), polymethyle methacrylate(PMMA), polystyrene(PS), or just nylon.
Any cosmetics or personal hygiene products that you want to get rid of, may contain substances that could harm the environment one way or another. If you can’t find a way to recycle them in your area, then it is always a safer choice to empty them in the trash, than to flash them or empty them down the sink.
But it’s just a couple of pills
The very important think we should always keep in mind is that we are not “just one person”. Obviously a few flushed pills, or a small quantity of cooking oil down the sink will not severely pollute anything. But we are millions, and we all have waste liquids to get rid of. When you look at the whole picture, those couple of pills become thousands, and the small quantity of cooking oil becomes tons! And that does severly pollute our life.
We invite you to be a part of the solution and make the mess stop! It only takes the first step 🙂