Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
Trash Technology: These recycledplastic bottles contain biomass residuesthat can turn murky water into cleanwater.Small perforated plastic bottles withpyrolyzed rice hull (top) are placedinside larger perforated bottles(bottom) to form DEWATS' microbialsupport system.
Country Water ActionsPhilippines: Using Solid Waste to Treat Water Waste
Environmental engineers have devised a decentralizedwastewater treatment system using scrap plastic waterbottles, rice hull, and other solid wastes. Pilot-test resultsare positive, but replication and upscaling remainchallenging. Will this new technology from trash help solvethe sanitation and wastewater problems in localcommunities?
TECHNOLOGY FROM TRASH
A team of engineers havetaken garbage recyclingup another level with anew low-cost wastewatertreatment technologystraight from the trashbin. “Our project aims tosolve sanitation problemsand environmentalpollution caused byimproper sewagedisposal using a low-costdecentralized wastewater treatment system (DEWATS). Weused solid waste materials to build it,” says Wilfredo Jose, achemical engineer from the University of the Philippines,and the inventor of the technology.The project, under the ASEAN University Network-SouthEast Asia Engineering Education Network (AUN/SEED NET),is funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency(JICA). Jose, together with Nguyen Thi Du from the HanoiUniversity of Technology and Makoto Shoda from the TokyoInstitute of Technology, make up the projectimplementation team.The state-of-the-art technology at reasonable costs,resulting from the use of local materials, has made DEWATSapplications popular in the developing world.Jose’s invention, in particular, uses biomass residues, suchas rice hull, waste wood, and dust from coconut fibers(called coconut coir dust), and solid waste materials such asplastic bottles, used phone cards, and aluminum cans—allavailable in most garbage dumps.
In the Philippines, household wastewater contributes to48% of water pollution. Often, household septic tanks arenot emptied of effluent until they overflow. Even whenemptied, effluent is not treated, causing waterbornediseases.While the country’s 2004 Clean Water Act mandates thaturban communities be connected to a sewerage systemwithin 5 years, a staggering 94% of urban areas still haveno sewerage system to connect to, posing a big challengeto the government. In rural areas, the Act calls for theproper disposal and treatment of septic tank effluent. Jose says, “Septic tanks alone are inadequate for managingthe country’s wastewater. They should not be treated aswastewater receptacles, and effluent must be treated at allcosts.” Currently, however, septic tanks have no capacity to treatraw sewage. And while many options for wastewatertreatment are available, they cost higher in terms of capitalinvestments, and operations and maintenance. This is wherethe DEWATS comes in as a viable alternative solution.
WASTE TREATING WASTE
The DEWATS is a plasticseptic tank connected toan anaerobic reactor, anaerobic reactor, and analgal pond.Septic tank effluent isfiltered in the anaerobicand aerobic reactors—chambers wherecomplementary chemicalreactions take place toremove much of thewastewater’s filth. Thesechambers have “microbialsupport systems” that arecapable of turning murkywater into clean water.The microbial supportsystem for the anaerobicreactor consists of “pyrolyzed” wastebiomass residue, andsmall and large perforated plastic bottles. Basically, thebiomass residues, composed of rice hull or coconut coir dustthat has undergone pyrolysis (a process of decompositionusing heat), are bound together by melted waste plastic,and placed inside small perforated plastic bottles. Thesesmall bottles are then placed inside larger gallon-sizedperforated bottles, and stacked in the anaerobic chamber.Similarly, the microbial support system for the aerobicreactor uses solid wastes such as cut-up phone cards andaluminum cans, placed inside small perforated plasticbottles. They are then placed inside larger perforated plasticbottles, and lined-up near the tank’s inner walls. Low-costblowers or air pumps at the bottom of the tank improve thewater’s physical and chemical make-up through anotherprocess called aeration.Clear water coming from these reactors is then dischargedinto the algal pond, lined also with waste plastics, to removenitrogen and phosphorus nutrients, and increase the water’spH-level to eliminate coliforms.