In a industry where we often discuss high cost treatment facilities with tanks, aeration, sludge handling, digesters, and even membranes; it is refreshing to see innovation done without the capital expense. According to an article in the Hindustan Times (link to article) In Mumbai there are several rivers polluted with raw domestic waste and stormwater runoff. The resulting pollution is 100x the target limits (the article was not clear, but am guessing they were discussion fecal coliform counts). To start cleanup, citizens and local academics are constructing artificial wetlands with used plastic drink bottles (that would have been trash) and plants that were being removed from local sites. Plant roots suspended in the river provide a surface for pollution degrading bacteria to colonize. The bacteria help the plants uptake nutrients from the water, while the beneficial root-associated microbes help degrade wastes and improve the water to a point where conditions do not favor enteric bacteria such as E. coli , bacterial pathogens, and parasites.
This example shows how volunteer labor, appropriate waste construction materials, and a bit of ingenuity can be used to treat wastewater. Now the final results may not be as high a water quality as waste treated in a modern wastewater treatment plant, it is a step in the right direction. I look forward to monitoring the Mumbai cleanup effort and see how well this innovative approach works.
Erik Rumbaugh has been involved in biological waste treatment for over 20 years. He has worked with industrial and municipal wastewater facilities to ensure optimal performance of their treatment systems. He is a founder of Aster Bio (www.asterbio.com) specializing in biological waste treatment.
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