In the never ending quest to clean up wastewater there are thousands of different products that have been invented. One of these products is called the Living Machine. It’s less of a product though, and more of a wastewater treatment system. The Living Machine uses the knowledge that natural wetlands are great filters for wastewater and applies that knowledge to provide an ecological, cost effective, and sustainable solution.
The original concept for the Living Machine was thought up during the 1980’s by Dr. John Todd. Since then the design has continued to be revised and perfected into the product they have today. The basic concept is to provide an artificial wetland to treat the wastewater in the same way that it is done every day in nature. However, this is different because this system can be used anywhere whether there’s water nearby or you’re in the middle of the desert. This system works by continuously flooding and draining a series of “wetland cells” to mimic the tides that happen every day. However, because the Living Machine does this is done a number of times throughout the day the natural process is sped up which means a faster turnaround of wastewater treatment. This is done by naturally putting oxygen into the water, and, just like in nature, the microorganisms in the vegetation then go to work to filter out all of the pollution that is in the water. In the end, just like after water passes through a natural wetland, you have clean water that can be used for watering plants, flushing toilets, industrial processes, washing down work areas, and anything else that non-potable water can be used for. Here’s a great illustration of an example of how the system works.
One of the benefits of this system is that it can be installed and used anywhere as opposed to sending wastewater offsite to a treatment facility miles away. The Living Machine has been installed in the lobbies of buildings, at schools, at resorts; basically anywhere that wastewater is produced. I think it’s amazing that you can have this system in your building’s lobby treating your wastewater, and to the people walking by it just looks to be a beautiful display of flora. Also, if the system is outside but in an area where the climate is not friendly to this type of vegetation the system will be placed within a greenhouse where the plants can thrive while cleaning. Take a look at this picture of the system in the lobby of the Port of Portland. This is only part of the system (it continues outside) but you can see how nice it looks.
Another benefit of this system is that it saves costs. Because you don’t have to hook up with the local sewer system you don’t have to pay that utility cost and you now have all of this water to re-use which will save you money on irrigation or whatever else you use it for. Another cost saver is that this system doesn’t use a lot of energy due to the fact that it’s mimicking nature.
This system also offer’s something else that is very important to a lot of companies: it shows their commitment to the environment and that they’re willing to go the extra mile to lower their ecological footprint. This is something that is overlooked but is very important to a lot of people.
Overall I think that this is a great system that provides a much needed service at a savings to the customer while helping the environment by mimicking it. There is currently an installation being built at the new Public Utilities Commission building in San Francisco (where I live) and I can’t wait to go down and take a look.