Whether it’s down the drain or flushed, it’s simple to believe that “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to waste disposal. However, the things we dispose of can have a huge effect on water quality. This article details what not to pour or flush down the drain.
Where Does "It" All Go?
All the water that goes down the drain, from flushing toilets to washing dishes, goes through a city's sewer system and ends up at a wastewater treatment facility where it is treated for pollutants. And once it goes through the treatment process, it's released into local waterways to be recycled for various purposes, including for our own drinking water. So let's make a conscious effort to be mindful of what we put down the drain, and in turn, contribute to a cleaner water supply for all.
How effective are wastewater treatment plants in removing pollutants?
While it may be tempting to assume that wastewater treatment plants remove everything from incoming wastewater, that is not completely accurate. These facilities are effective at removing larger solids, biological/bacterial contaminants, and sediment, but they do not remove many chemicals, pharmaceuticals, hazardous materials, industrial waste, or pesticides. This means that drinking water treatment plants must take on a larger role in purifying tap water. Some wastewater treatment plants may be outdated or not required to remove certain pollutants, leading to further pressure on drinking water treatment plants. It's worth taking a closer look at how wastewater treatment plants work by checking out in-depth videos.
To ensure the safety and purity of our drinking water, it is crucial to avoid certain items down the drain. Here's a list of items that should never be flushed or poured to protect the quality of our water supply:
Pharmaceuticals: The careless disposal of old or unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medications by flushing them down the toilet or sink can pose a grave danger to our water supply. Most water treatment plants are unable to remove these pharmaceuticals, leading to the accumulation of trace amounts in our tap water. Though small amounts or levels below therapeutic doses may not currently be a cause for concern, the continued disregard for proper disposal methods can lead to a dangerous build-up. It is crucial to follow the FDA's guidelines on proper disposal of unused medicines to avoid putting our water supply at risk.
Grease: Pouring grease, oils, or fats down the sink can cause big problems. It can block the pipes and cause sewage backups, like in Detroit. It's important to throw it away in the trash or find a program that collects it. This will help prevent big problems in our community's pipes.
Motor Oil: Pouring used motor oil or other automotive fluids down the drain, onto the soil, into a waterway or in a manhole on the sidewalk is extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. These fluids, including antifreeze, solvents and gasoline, contain toxic heavy metals such as zinc, lead and cadmium, that can severely contaminate our drinking water. Just one quart of oil poured down a storm drain can contaminate one million gallons of water, and one pint can create a slick of one acre of water. When oil enters a body of water, it forms a film on the surface that blocks out sunlight, leading to the death of plants and other organisms. Unlike cooking oil, motor oil cannot be disposed in the trash, and many cities issue heavy fines for those who dump toxic waste in landfills. It is important to bring used motor oil to local used oil collection centers.
Paint: Paint, whether it's latex, acrylic, or oil, can be a real pain in the pipes if not disposed of properly. But don't worry, before you go chucking it in the trash, see if your local drama club or community theater can use it. If not, don't fret, just take it to a local household hazardous waste collection location/event. And for the love of pipes, please don't clean your brushes in the sink, use a rinse bucket and let the paint settle overnight before disposing of the water. Trust us, you'll be glad you did when you don't have to scrape dried paint off your pipes.
It is important to remember that while wastewater treatment plants effectively treat biological materials in the water, they may not be equipped to treat the water for certain chemicals such as pharmaceuticals, cooking oil, household grease, motor oil and other automotive fluids, paint, photographic chemicals and others. However, by being mindful of what we pour down the sink or into sewer or storm drains, we can help protect our water supply. When unsure about how to dispose of a certain material, it's always best to check with your local authorities for proper toxic waste disposal locations. By doing our part and making informed decisions, we can all play a role in keeping our water supply clean and safe.