What is Wastewater Treatment?
Waste water Treatment is a process used to convert wastewater into an effluent that can be returned to the water cycle with minimum impact on the environment, or directly reused. The latter is called water reclamation because treated wastewater can then be used for other purposes. The treatment process takes place in a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), often referred to as a Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF) or a sewage treatment plant. Pollutants in municipal wastewater (households and small industries) are removed or broken down.
The treatment of wastewater is part of the overarching field of sanitation. Sanitation also includes the management of human waste and solid waste as well as stormwater (drainage) management. By-products from wastewater treatment plants, such as screenings, grit and sewage sludge may also be treated in a wastewater treatment plant.
Step by Step Wastewater Treatment Process
The following is a step by step process of how wastewater is treated:
This is the first step in waste water treatment process. Collection systems are put in place by municipal administration, home owners as well as business owners to ensure that all the wastewater is collected and directed to a central point. This water is then directed to a treatment plant using underground drainage systems or by exhauster tracks owned and operated by business people. The transportation of wastewater should however be done under hygienic conditions. The pipes or tracks should be leak proof and the people offering the exhausting services should wear protective clothing.
At the treatment plant, odor control is very important. Wastewater contains a lot of dirty substances that cause a foul smell over time. To ensure that the surrounding areas are free of the foul smell, odor treatment processes are initiated at the treatment plant. All odor sources are contained and treated using chemicals to neutralize the foul smell producing elements. It is the first wastewater treatment plant process and it’s very important.
This is the next step in wastewater treatment process.
Screening involves the removal of large objects for example nappies, cotton buds, plastics, diapers, rags, sanitary items, nappies, face wipes, broken bottles or bottle tops that in one way or another may damage the equipment. Failure to observe this step, results in constant machine and equipment problems. Specially designed equipment is used to get rid of grit that is usually washed down into the sewer lines by rainwater. The solid wastes removed from the wastewater are then transported and disposed off in landfills.
This process involves the separation of macrobiotic solid matter from the wastewater. Primary treatment is done by pouring the wastewater into big tanks for the solid matter to settle at the surface of the tanks. The sludge, the solid waste that settles at the surface of the tanks, is removed by large scrappers and is pushed to the center of the cylindrical tanks and later pumped out of the tanks for further treatment. The remaining water is then pumped for secondary treatment.
Also known as the activated sludge process, the secondary treatment stage involves adding seed sludge to the wastewater to ensure that is broken down further. Air is first pumped into huge aeration tanks which mix the wastewater with the seed sludge which is basically small amount of sludge, which fuels the growth of bacteria that uses oxygen and the growth of other small microorganisms that consume the remaining organic matter. This process leads to the production of large particles that settle down at the bottom of the huge tanks. The wastewater passes through the large tanks for a period of 3-6 hours.
The solid matter that settle out after the primary and secondary treatment stages are directed to digesters. The digesters are heated at room temperature. The solid wastes are then treated for a month where they undergo anaerobic digestion. During this process, methane gases are produced and there is a formation of nutrient rich bio-solids which are recycled and dewatered into local firms. The methane gas formed is usually used as a source of energy at the treatment plants. It can be used to produce electricity in engines or to simply drive plant equipment. This gas can also be used in boilers to generate heat for digesters.
This stage is similar to the one used by drinking water treatment plants which clean raw water for drinking purposes. The tertiary treatment stage has the ability to remove up to 99 percent of the impurities from the wastewater. This produces effluent water that is close to drinking water quality. Unfortunately, this process tends to be a bit expensive as it requires special equipment, well trained and highly skilled equipment operators, chemicals and a steady energy supply. All these are not readily available.
After the primary treatment stage and the secondary treatment process, there are still some diseases causing organisms in the remaining treated wastewater. To eliminate them, the wastewater must be disinfected for at least 20-25 minutes in tanks that contain a mixture of chlorine and sodium hypochlorite. The disinfection process is an integral part of the treatment process because it guards the health of the animals and the local people who use the water for other purposes. The effluent (treated waste water) is later released into the environment through the local water ways.
The sludge that is produced and collected during the primary and secondary treatment processes requires concentration and thickening to enable further processing. It is put into thickening tanks that allow it to settle down and later separates from the water. This process can take up to 24 hours. The remaining water is collected and sent back to the huge aeration tanks for further treatment. The sludge is then treated and sent back into the environment and can be used for agricultural use.
Wastewater treatment has a number of benefits. For example, wastewater treatment ensures that the environment is kept clean, there is no water pollution, makes use of the most important natural resource; water, the treated water can be used for cooling machines in factories and industries, prevents the outbreak of waterborne diseases and most importantly, it ensures that there is adequate water for other purposes like irrigation.