A recent “homeowner-style event” at my house, I’ll spare you the details, got me thinking about septic systems. I know, not exactly the most glamorous of topics, and perhaps if you are currently snacking, you want to read this piece later. But, like the title of the much beloved children’s book makes clear, everyone poops.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

It’s how we deal with it that matters.

Much of Maine is rural, with homes operating on self-contained systems and leach fields. For the most part, this works. However, our experience is hardly the norm.

Many areas of the globe have limited or nonexistent access to safe, hygienic systems of human waste disposal. In fact, a 2013 study in Environmental Science & Technology notes that “6 out of every 10 people on Earth still do not have access to flush toilets or other adequate sanitation that protects the user and the surrounding community from harmful health effects.”

This has real and dire ramifications.

According to the organization The World Counts, in 2021, there have been over 2,000,000 people who died from dirty water and related diseases (as of July 26). That’s shocking. Those are deaths that, in the grand scheme of things, are relatively easy to prevent.

On the other end of the spectrum are large municipal areas with centralized sewer and water treatment systems. In one heck of a coincidence, as I was asking questions, on the morning news came a story about sewage treatment in Washington, D.C.

I’m going to be straight up here, I have never considered D.C. a leader in the eco movement. Which just goes to show, sometimes I need to look a little more deeply.

It turns out, Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant handles a lot of waste. In fact, to quote their website, “On an average day, the facility treats close to 300 million gallons of wastewater and has the ability to treat over 1 billion gallons a day at peak flow. Wastewater flows in from the District of Columbia and from Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland and Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia.”

They are also at the forefront of some really cool, cutting-edge technology.

At the treatment plant, solid wastes are extracted and treated using special equipment that “ … adds heat, pressure and helpful bacteria to the solids to destroy harmful pathogens and reduce odor. The final product is a nutrient-rich product similar to soil called biosolids.” The end product is sold by the bag or truckload, marketed under the name “Bloom.”

Bloom fertilizer is used on local farms and gardens as well as on the grounds surrounding the Capitol. I know, the jokes practically write themselves. But, seriously folks, this is really cool stuff.

In addition to the obvious benefits of removing the solid waste from landfills (which is where waste from the city of Portland goes) and adding vital nutrients back into an overtaxed soil, D.C. makes some decent cash on the sale of the fertilizer, eliminates the costs of hauling it to the landfill and it generates electricity to boot. According to Blue Plains, “The thermal hydrolysis process used in our digesters generates about 10 megawatts of electricity that we reuse to cut our electricity consumption by a third.”

This is such a fantastic example of a large-scale, profitable solution to some of the larger challenges facing our planet. I tip my hat. Here’s hoping other municipalities follow suit or innovate in their own future-oriented ways! Maybe next we figure sustainable access for the underserved areas of the globe as well. The possibilities abound.

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