Here in Vermont, it’s rare when we don’t have all the clean water we need. It’s in part due to luck of the geographic draw, the hard work of wastewater treatment plant operators, and to the decisions YOU make every day when you decide how to dispose of hazardous leftovers, medications, and even food scraps and cleaning “wipes”.
It’s time to celebrate our abundant clean water and explore how each of us can take tiny – and giant! – steps to help keep it that way. Vermont Clean Water Week is July 29 – August 4! Check out the interesting and fun variety of events going on around the state.
Why you should care about what goes down your drain
Homes with septic systems
Wastewater from your home goes into a tank buried underground. The solids settle out and partially decompose. The remaining wastewater then goes into a drain field where the natural, ongoing processes in the soil help to further break down the wastewater as it seeps into the surrounding soils. Toxic materials and medications in that wastewater can harm or kill the helpful bacteria, which can cause the system to fail. Some toxic materials move through the soil untreated or unchanged, potentially contaminating groundwater or surface waters. For example, many paint removers and aerosol paint products contain the chemical methylene chloride. This chemical can pass directly through a septic system without breaking down at all. Chlorine bleach can also pass through a septic system without breaking down, and the chlorine can react with organic matter to form new toxic chemicals.
Homes and businesses connected to a community wastewater system
Wastewater is piped to a central sewage plant. The solids in the system settle to the bottom and, after being treated to meet stringent EPA safety standards, are applied as fertilizer on non-arable fields (fields that don’t grow food for human consumption). The liquid, once treated, is discharged into area waterways. As with home septic systems, most municipal systems rely on bacteria and other natural organisms to decompose the waste. Toxic materials and medications can harm or kill enough of them to cause the system to not work properly. Additionally, some medications and hazardous waste can pass through the system unchanged and pollute the water downstream.
As some of our local wastewater treatment plants know all too well, food scraps and processing residuals can also create big problems for wastewater treatment plants and plumbing designed for much simpler streams. You can read more about that on this post. And those “wet wipes” that claim to be flushable? Put those in the trash (here’s why)! Basically, if your body produced it, it’s a non-toxic product meant to be used on your body, or it’s toilet tissue, it can go down the drain.
Help keep our waterways clean and clear and use the drains in your house for their original purpose: To get rid of non-hazardous wastewater and human waste. CSWD provides facilities for proper disposal of hazardous waste and food scraps to make proper management of these leftovers easy. Learn how to properly get rid of medications on our A-Z list here.
And don’t forget to check out the Clean Water Week events, including a tour of the wastewater treatment plants in Essex and South Burlington! C’mon, admit it: You’ve always wondered what happens to your water when it flows down your pipe. It’s high-tech, it’s surprising, and through understanding what it takes to clean our wastewater, it can inspire you to make some helpful changes in how you handle those pharmaceutical, hazardous, and food wastes.
Special thanks to the National Ag Safety Database for some of the information in this article.