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From the Sewer to the Glass – How did we get here?

The idea of reusing wastewater is not a new one. For decades governments and environmentalists have been pushing the idea of treating wastewater for other uses. In some instances, treated wastewater has been accepted without much fuss – like for irrigation and cooling industrial plants.

As we’ve come to better understand just how dire our need for sustainable water sources is though, cities and municipalities struggling with water shortages have pushed for even wider use. This was initially met with some serious resistance, but as technology and our understanding of water purity have progressed the general public has become more and more accepting of reused wastewater in their own lives.

How did we get to this point? It wasn’t without the help of some forward-thinking manufacturers and innovators in the water management field. For instance, before wastewater can even go through a microfiber filtering process it has to be passed through a perforated or mesh strainer. These industrial strainers – like the basket strainers from 102 year old Eaton Corporation have evolved from years of testing and improvements in the industrial sector.

Today’s strainers allow water to be pumped through a pipeline at impressive flow rates, and duplex strainers even allow for continuous flow during basket cleanout. Even this seemingly basic function of refining wastewater has contributed to the efficiency levels that have allowed wastewater treatment to be a sensible option in the water conservation discussion.

Once wastewater is free of particulate it is sent through microfiber filters that trap any unseen contaminants and bacteria. Yes, these filter bags are close knit enough to actually trap bacteria! Can’t wrap your head around that? Microfiber is woven with fibers that are about 1/100th of the diameter of a strand of human hair. These tiny fibers came into being in the mid 1900’s and the creation process was refined by Japanese researchers.

Today, microfiber can be found everywhere from the material on your couch to the shirt you’re wearing. Even before it began showing up in the consumer realm though, microfiber was put to use industrially. Industry leaders saw its usefulness for things like polishing and filtration. This use and experimentation in the industrial sector made the bacteria filtering bags of today possible.

After being filtered, the water is refined even further through high-tech chemical processes like reverse osmosis and UV treatments. These techniques are available today not because researchers were searching for a way to clean waste water, but because of the natural advancement of science. Like reverse osmosis, which was first observed at the University of California at Los Angeles by researchers in 1949.

What’s the result of all these techniques and equipment coming together to treat wastewater? What you end up with is processed water that is even purer than most tap water! Indeed, advanced techniques and discoveries have propelled wastewater treatment into the spotlight in recent years, but that has been only half the battle for wastewater treatment proponents.

The last and possibly most powerful piece of the puzzle has been the consumers’ perception of treated wastewater. For years supporters of smarter water management have struggled with how to deal with this issue. They wondered how to overcome the initial “yuck” factor of reusing water that may have once been in a toilet bowl.

Though this disgust does still exist to some extent, education and the increase in availability of information have both helped to shift the minds of the public. For instance, years ago most people did not have an understanding of the water cycle or of bacteria and contaminants. Our modern-day understanding of water itself has opened up the doors for treated water in cities, countries, and corporations.

What can we expect going forward? Wastewater has already made its way to the tap in numerous countries across the world, like Singapore, perceived to be one of the cleanest countries on Earth. Even giant multinational corporations like Pepsico are putting an emphasis on smarter water usage and wastewater management. As environmental constraints continue to tighten, expect to see a lot more of that reused wastewater in your tap water, bottled drinks, or used to process your groceries.

Yes, some of the initial disgust at the thought of former toilet water making its way into your drink may still put some off, but the good news is that opinions can and are changing. And that means a more sensible, responsible, and water-rich worldwide community.

Content was written by Amanda Hill, content manager for Commercial Industrial Supply

Posted 16/12/2013 by Alan Burrows

Tagged under: Microfiber , wastewater , Commercial Industrial Supply , smart water usage , reverse osmosis , UV treatments

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