How effective wastewater management is making a splash in organisational sustainability
Poorly maintained wastewater management systems can lead to blockages in the sewerage system (the infrastructure using sewers to collect and take rain and wastewater for treatment and disposal). This can result in untreated sewage water flowing out into the environment, causing widespread illnesses and serious infections.
As our population grows and the skyline is further littered with apartment buildings and skyscrapers, this increases the strain on the sewerage system. Businesses need to understand the factors that cause damage to our sewage water and how to mitigate these problems.
Some of the common culprits include:
Waste from kitchens and bathrooms can lead to blockages called ‘fatbergs’ – these are masses formed by non-biodegradable solids that end up in the sewers, such as wet wipes (even if they’re labelled as ‘flushable’), and food waste deposits of fat, oils and grease. The higher the fat content in sewer waste, the more blockages. Wet wipes (and other solids) in the sewage block pumps in key parts of the sewers, causing strong odours and increased flooding.
Fatbergs form when the fluid in sewers reaches a rough surface or obstruction, causing a swirl of water to start trapping debris. These obstructions can be as seemingly insignificant as surplus cement drips, damaged brickwork, or tree roots, but the subsequent fatbergs cause lots of problems and are costly to resolve.
The lumps of congealed material can become as strong as concrete, requiring specialist equipment to remove them before untreated sewage spills out into the environment. The water company costs to fix these issues become tax payer costs.
Exposure to untreated sewage water is harmful, even in small amounts, because it contains high volumes of pathological bacteria and chemicals. This can cause symptoms including sore throats, skin and chest infections, gastroenteritis, and outbreaks of serious illnesses like hepatitis A and E. coli.
Organic waste blockages
Bits of fat and organic waste from washing dishes, and grease from grease traps that aren’t regularly maintained, can pollute the water system, leading to congealed blockage-causing lumps downstream. Merton Council says that of the average 200,000 sewer blockages a year, up to 75% are caused by fat, oils and grease. According to Southern Water, £90 million is spent on clearing fat, oil and grease blockages across the country every year.
Uric acid scale is a by-product of urine that causes urinal blockages and unpleasant smells. Extra flushing is usually implemented to try and shift the blockages, but instead, the blockages and odours remain, and water gets unnecessarily wasted.
One client in particular tried to combat the odour issues in their onsite urinals by flushing them every 20 minutes, wasting around 790,000 litres of water per year. That’s the same as roughly 12 average-sized swimming pools.
What does that mean for you?
Almost all of the UK’s waterways are polluted. A House of Commons Committee report from 2022 stated that only 14% of UK rivers had a ‘good’ ecological status (meaning they’re safe to swim in). Surfers Against Sewage says that 55% of surveyed Brits who have tried wild swimming or sports in UK waters reported falling ill afterwards, on at least one occasion, because of sewage pollution.
Raw sewage is a threat to human health and wildlife as it contains harmful bacteria and viruses. It also promotes the growth of destructive algae blooms that starve rivers of oxygen, killing many species and disrupting delicate ecosystems.
While landspreading of sewage sludge is a way to improve soil health (as it provides a valuable source of nitrates, phosphates and other organic materials and the process saves millions of tonnes of human waste from being incinerated) current regulations don’t cover a number of contaminants that could be a potential risk to human health.
Professor Alistair Boxall, an environmental scientist at the University of York, said sewage sludge contains a mixture of things, including microplastics, persistent organic pollutants, metals, pharmaceuticals, and run-off from roads including rubber particles from tyres. He said, “We have no idea of how those work in combination to affect our health and also affect ecosystem health.”
That’s why it’s important for organisations to address their processes and make changes to improve waste management strategies. In order to reduce the amount of pollution in the sewerage system, we need to start by examining how we treat our water at the source.
What can you do about it?
There are a number of things businesses can do to improve waste management systems across bathrooms and kitchens:
The less water we use, the less wastewater is produced. Regularly check your drains for leaks and avoid wasteful washing habits, like excess flushing and leaving taps on. Using a product like URIZAP helps reduce the blockages and odours in urinals, and enables you to reduce flushing.
Manage your wastewater more sustainably by using technology to reuse wastewater (there’s even the possibility of turning it into energy).
By implementing these changes, your business can reduce the amount of pollution that ends up in the sewerage system, helping to reduce the burden from water companies and create safer drinking water.
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