Over the next 3 years, the U.S. is expected to see a massive increase in water recycling systems.
The projection is from 4.8 billion gallons per day to 6.6 billion.
This is a 37 percent growth.
If you’re looking for a new water management strategy for your land — one that’s safe and reliable — then a water recycling system could be your solution.
Here’s what you should know.
1. What are water recycling systems?
These are systems that allow us to reclaim water from a variety of sources.
Water recycling, also known as water reuse, captures wastewater, stormwater, saltwater, or greywater and cleans it, so it can be used for another purpose.
2. How do water recycling systems work?
The main goal of a water recycling system is to remove contaminants from the water to create a purified product that can be used in a variety of ways.
There are a few different processes that can be used depending on the composition and load of the wastewater.
However, for an idea of the process, consider the following four stages of wastewater treatment prior to recycling.
Depending on the quality of the wastewater and what it was previously used for, you may or may not need to go through all four of the steps below.
In some cases, even more extreme processes may need to be used for a potable result.
Primary treatment: This is the first stage of the treatment process that separates suspended solids (SS) from wastewater.
During this part, 70 to 90 percent of these materials are removed through flocculation, coagulation, settling, and flotation processes.
Additionally, chemical reagents may be introduced depending on the purification necessary.
Secondary treatment: This is a more advanced biological treatment that uses certain bacteria to eliminate dissolved pollutants (ex: carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus) contained in wastewater.
Sometimes biological treatment methods and chemical reagents are used together when there is a need for heavy treatment.
Tertiary treatment: This stage removes any remaining dissolved solids from purified and disinfected wastewater.
This way, the treated water can be reused for another purpose.
Sludge treatment: The materials and pollutants that were removed during the previous three treatments become sludge.
These have great potential for use as a fertilizer or soil improver as long as it’s been treated appropriately and doesn’t contain heavy metals or pathogens like viruses and bacteria.
3. What are the stages of water recycling systems?
As noted above, there’s no standardized treatment for water reuse because the needs vary depending on the type of water that’s being recycled.
However, the following stages are generally a good place to start when it comes to treating water in your recycling system.
Step 1: Removing oil and large particles
To complete step one, most water recycling systems will enlist the help of a triple interceptor and oil separator.
A triple interceptor is a three-compartment tank where water overflows from one compartment to the next, which allows sludge to sink to the bottom of the first compartment.
After the water has gone through the triple interceptor, it enters the oil and water separator.
Oil is less dense than water which allows it to float to the top of the tank for removal.
Not all oil and water separators operate the same way.
The type you need often depends on your wastewater requirements, and thus, it’s best to reach out to a professional when you’re ready to select one.
Step 2: Filtration
At this stage, oil and large solids have been removed.
Now, wastewater is deposited into a processing tank.
It will be stored here until it’s pumped into a filtration system tank.
During filtration, water is put through a deep bed media filter.
It’s pushed at a high pressure through fine sand and other granular particles to remove any large particles that are still in the water.
After this, water is put through a 3-stage cartridge filtration that reduces sediment size to 1 micron to ensure it meets the required maximum particle size.
Step 3: Removing chemicals
After filtration, the water is then evaluated for surfactants that are commonly found in water.
These substances tend to reduce the surface tension of a liquid in which it’s dissolved, and they’re commonly found in detergents.
The effectiveness of detergents and soaps depends on factors like water hardness.
A substance like a builder can be added to the water to remove problematic ions, but it can also create other issues (i.e., it’s toxic to animals and vegetation).
Fast-breaking detergents have been created, which are more environmentally friendly.
However, when recycling water, these detergents must still be removed.
There are two core ways to do this.
The first is by using a specific chemical that allows detergents to join and coagulate.
The second is by treating water in a tank using bacteria to decompose detergent.
Step 4: Sterilization
After the water is free of large particles, detergents, and anything else of consequence, sterilization must occur.
This is the stage that addresses the disease-causing organisms, parasites, and bacteria that are found in poor-quality water.
This stage can be skipped if the water isn’t going to be used around humans.
That said, it’s often considered “standard” because pathogens can cause illness if the water comes into contact with humans.
For instance, say recycled water is being used at a car wash, but that recycled water wasn’t sterilized.
Although it’s unlikely, water that’s sprayed through the high-pressure hoses in the car wash can encounter a person.
If it did (and it wasn’t treated), this could be incredibly harmful.
To sterilize water:
- Add and maintain a concentration of chlorine in the water (best for water that will be stored and used in the future)
- Run water under UV light rays which disrupt pathogens’ cellular functioning (best for water that will be used immediately)
4. What are the uses of recycled water?
When you think of reusing water, you may be a little grossed out initially.
Once you’ve used water once, isn’t it dirty?
Won’t it be contaminated and potentially dangerous?
Why would anyone consider putting themselves at risk?
Fortunately, there are specific uses for recycled water that allow you to reuse the water in a way that is both safe and sustainable.
Here are the most common uses for recycled water.
Landscaping irrigation — parks, rights-of-way, golf courses
Municipal water supply
Process water for power plants, refineries, mills, and factories
Indoor uses such as toilet flushing
Dust control or surface cleaning of roads, construction sites, and other trafficked areas
Concrete mixing or other construction processes
Supplying artificial lakes and inland or coastal aquifers
5. Are there any restrictions or regulations on water reuse?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t restrict any type of water reuse in water recycling systems.
States are able to regulate this area on their own.
Some have chosen to address reuse in an isolated manner while others have incorporated water reuse into their existing water programs.
That said, two programs that do guide water reuse are the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act.
These protect the quality of the drinking water source as well as community water sources.
State and local governments can build upon this legislation to ensure their water recycling systems function properly.
6. Why are water recycling systems important?
Freshwater on the Earth is limited.
Although water covers about 71 percent of the planet’s surface, only 3 percent of this is fresh water.
Using water recycling systems is a clear and effective solution to creating a new and reliable water supply.
It doesn’t compromise public health when done correctly.
Furthermore, recycling wastewater and greywater requires less energy than desalinating salt water.
While you may think that converting saltwater to freshwater may be the most efficient route given how much the planet has to work with, it’s far more effective to reuse the freshwater we already have.
That said, water recycling systems are often still expensive initially compared to other alternatives (ex: groundwater, imported water, etc.).
Water projects are still not being implemented due to a variety of factors — institutional barriers, governmental agency priorities, public misconception, etc.
However, as water needs and water energy demands grow, recycling will play a greater role in the overall water supply.
7. What are the benefits of water recycling?
Recycled water can satisfy most water demands as long as it’s treated properly.
More treatment is always required if there’s a chance of human exposure to water.
For this reason, recycled water is most commonly used for non-potable (non-drinking) purposes.
Here are some of the most prevalent benefits of water recycling:
Can decrease the diversion of freshwater from sensitive ecosystems
Water is often diverted from freshwater resources for agricultural, urban, and industrial purposes.
Unfortunately, this impacts the plants, fish, and wildlife that live and reproduce in these waters.
If people opt to reuse water (instead of diverting new freshwater), then this will allow considerable water to remain in the environment and increase the flow to critical ecosystems.
Can decrease discharge to sensitive water bodies
Water reuse can not only help the water supply, but it can also eliminate and decrease the wastewater discharge to other water bodies.
In some cases, this is why communities opt to recycle.
There’s simply nowhere to put the used water and treating it to reuse makes much more sense.
Can be used to create or enhance wetlands and riparian habitats
Streams can become dry from too much water diversion.
Recycled water can be added back to these areas to improve the aquatic and wildlife habitat.
This is beneficial to ecosystems like wetlands that come with a host of advantages, including wildlife and wildfowl habitats, water quality improvement, flood diminishment, and fisheries breeding grounds.
Can provide additional nutrients
Some recycled water may contain higher levels of certain nutrients than potable water.
However, this isn’t a bad thing.
While it would have been previously considered “pollution,” using recycled water for agricultural and landscape irrigation can provide an additional source of nutrition.
In some cases, this water will entirely eliminate the need for synthetic fertilizers.
Can save energy
Extracting, treating, and transporting water over long distances can require a lot of energy.
If the freshwater available is groundwater, then additional energy is also required to pump the water to the surface.
By recycling water either on your land or near it, you reduce the amount of energy used.
And you may be thinking, “Well, doesn’t it require a lot of energy to treat water as well?”
Believe it or not, the energy it takes to transport is often greater than it is to treat.
So, along with the other benefits listed above, it often makes sense to take advantage of this avenue.
8. How do you get started with water recycling systems?
If you’re interested in getting started with water reuse, then the first step is to work with a water treatment specialist.
They’ll get you started with a trade effluent audit that looks at your existing output to identify ways you or your business may be able to save money by treating and recycling wastewater.
Additionally, this audit can help you monitor your output to see if you’re compliant with regulatory requirements in your state or local area.
Remember, these will vary depending on where you are because the federal government doesn’t regulate the entire country.
When an auditor evaluates your property, they look to see how your existing effluent contributes to your costs.
They also consider how your usage is trending and whether there’s an opportunity for more efficient treatment.
They can also evaluate your current wastewater discharge and compare it to similar businesses or properties to see how you compare.
9. What is greywater?
As you’re dipping your toes into the world of water recycling, you may hear the term “greywater.”
This refers to the relatively clean wastewater from baths, sinks, washing machines, and other kitchen appliances that can be recycled for other purposes.
Many homeowners and landowners are turning to greywater systems to recycle their used water.
If you’re not prepared to invest in a big water recycling system with a bunch of technology, that’s okay!
You can start with something simpler like recycling your greywater.
One of the easiest ways to recycle greywater is to capture shower and bath water in a bucket.
Then, use it to flush your toilet by pouring it into the bowl.
Just make sure you never fill the flush storage tank with greywater.
This can cause your toilet to start smelling, and it may also clog the flushing mechanism.
Greywater can be an amazing place to start with water recycling because it normally accounts for 50 to 80 percent of a household’s waste stream.
Once you’ve captured it, you can use it for toilet flushing or even in your garden.
Just remember that, while you can irrigate your trees or ornamental plants with greywater, you cannot use it on lawns or other groundcover.
You want to make sure you don’t contaminate the groundwater supply even accidentally.
If you want to invest in your business or land, then water recycling systems can be ideal accessible options.
It’s available for both commercial and industrial businesses, and this investment will insulate you from rising water prices and disposal fees.
By 2027, 37 percent more water will be reused…don’t hesitate to look into options for your land or business today!
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