Sustainable Strategies recently met with state officials, hog farmers and
federal agencies to discuss ecological ways to manage animal wastes in
North Carolina. The contamination of soil, groundwater and waterways by
animal wastes-mostly pig and chicken manure-is becoming a crippling and
even life-threatening problem in some parts of the United States and around
the world. We were called upon to develop a solution, and we did: bamboo
Animal Waste Causes Disease, Pollution
Animal waste that flows to conventional effluent lagoons, outfalls and
discharge pipes, often ends up-be it partially treated or untreated-into
environmentally sensitive "receptors," such as ground or surface waters.
Outbreaks of new emerging pathogens, such as Pfiesteria, are linked to the
effects of swine and chicken manure pollution in warm water estuaries and
rivers, killing fish and causing disease in fishermen who come in contact
with Pfiesteria-contaminated water.
In North Carolina, unplanned growth of swine feedlots has devastated the
state's rivers and estuaries. Legislation has been enacted to clean up
North Carolina's waterways by using tougher pollution restrictions and a $1
billion plan to modernize water and sewage treatment. According to a North
Carolina newspaper, the new legislation will spread the responsibility for
clean water among hog farmers, local governments, golf course owners and
others whose activities have polluted the Neuse River, Pamlico Sound and
other waterways. Other legislation has been proposed emphasizing land-use
planning, better sewage treatment and criminal penalties for persistent
polluters. The problem is so severe that Governor Jim Hunt placed a
two-year moratorium on new swine facilities.
Sustainable Strategies met to discuss solutions at a North Carolina
gathering of hog farmers, bamboo growers, bamboo materials manufacturers
(flooring, plywood, particle board), bamboo shoot marketers, university
researchers, USDA agents, environmental groups and state and federal water
pollution control officials. All were looking to our firm for an ecological
solution to this critical problem.
The Sustainable Strategy
Sustainable Strategies used the ecological paradigm to safely utilize the
polluting components of animal manures to ultimately grow plants that have
economic value. Planning, engineering and design with the ecological
paradigm as our template is the work of Sustainable Strategies.
In our "Bamboo Forest" plan, pretreated wastewater drains into an
appropriately engineered forest of phreatophytes-plants known for fast
growth and high water usage rates. These plants and their microbially
active rhizosphere (roots) will transform pollutants, including the
nitrogen (which causes unwanted plant and pathogen growth) into valuable
biomass and evaporate and transpire (plant respiration) the remaining
water. Bamboo is a workhorse plant in this regard, and the growing demand
for this material means that this treatment system results in a marketable
product, which offsets the construction and maintenance costs of the
system. And so the organic loop is closed-that's eco-nomic! In this way,
the farmers profit from their wastes. Most importantly, the Bamboo Forest
does this while protecting public and environmental health.
The Bamboo Forest design is modeled after the Wastewater Garden, a
zero-discharge, ecologically engineered, aerobic microbial
evapotranspiration wastewater utilization system developed by Sustainable
Strategies. When soils are not suited to absorbing wastewater, the Bamboo
Forest will be zero-discharge system with an impermeable liner and a
recycle tank with overflow alarm (to signal the need for pumping).
A pilot program in 1998 will show which bamboo species are the most
effective and best serve as an agoforestry crop. We'll also work with
different irrigation and planting techniques.
The Multifarious Bamboo
Bamboo, the tallest member of the grass family of plants, could be called a
"wonder plant." It is quite phreatophytic, which means it voraciously
consumes nitrogen to produce protein, making it an ideal nutrient sink.
Bamboo is well known in the Americas, as well as in tropical Asia, for its
use as building and construction materials due to its uncommon strength,
hardiness and rapid growth. It even has food value in the form of its
nutritious shoots. Bamboo leaves are also an excellent animal fodder crop,
as they have an 18 to 22 percent protein content. In India, bamboo fiber
provides the basis for paper and corrugated media. It's also used for fuel:
The rapid growth and high energy content of bamboo also make it a leading
source of biomass-derived fuels in developing countries.
Bamboo can take anywhere from six months to three years to reach full
working size (depending on species and maturity of bamboo stock planted),
so the system will not be working at full capacity at first. In the
beginning, unused effluent will flow to a storage pond or a holding tank in
closed-loop, zero-discharge systems. The need for overflow back-up
diminishes as the plants mature and the active microbial population in the
rhizosphere develops. The system works best when it's sheltered from rain
and extreme cold by siting it close to buildings, or, in some instances, in
greenhouses. Riparian and coastal bamboo forests and buffer strips will
improve lake and river water and provide an economical and sustainable
strategy for the management of agricultural manures. Once again, nature
provides-when we listen to her!
Small-Scale Piggery Waste System Grows
Pig Feed in Micronesian Islands
For the Pacific island state of Pohnpei, Sustainable Strategies has
developed a way to transform pig waste into pig feed.
On Pohnpei, many families keep one to 10 pigs. Pig manure has been
contaminating soil and waterways, resulting in diseases, such as
To address this problem, Sustainable Strategies has designed and will
demonstrate a small-scale piggery pollution prevention system. This
low-cost zero-discharge treatment system will use both Wastewater Garden
and composting technology to convert the nutrient-rich pig waste into
valuable plants. This ecologically integrated system first composts the
manure and spilled feed. Any liquid (urine, water) that drains from the
composter is evaporated and is transpired by plants in a small Wastewater
Among the plants grown in the Wastewater Garden will be kangkon and
fast-growing water hyacinth, banana and papaya, which can be used for
high-protein, low-cost pig feed. Construction- and furniture-grade bamboo
will be grown to use up the remaining water and nutrients.
Store-bought pig feed is expensive in the islands, and the production of
feed from waste will serve as an incentive to use of this technology.
Commercial feed currently sells on-island for about $0.20 to 0.25 per
pound; an average pig is fed five pounds a day. Given this expense (more
than $350 per pig per year), the cost of constructing a Wastewater Garden
would be returned over a relatively short period of time, as plants grown
in the garden replace a substantial amount of commercial feed. That's
closing the organic loop.
Washwater Garden Comes to the
Rescue of Vehicle Washdown Areas
When the town of Harwich, Mass. needed to build another fire station, town
officials found out that they had a big, expensive wastewater problem.
They discovered that the water left over from the daily washing down of the
fire department vehicles is categorized by the federal government as
hazardous waste. Federal law requires that this water be drained to a
holding tank, then pumped and treated by a firm such as Clean Harbors.
By Harwich's calculations, their vehicle wash-water disposal costs would
exceed $125,000 a year. Clearly, an alternative solution was needed.
The Fire Department, with the approval of the Massachusetts Department of
Environmental Protection, brought in Sustainable Strategies. We designed
for Harwich a Washwater Garden, which treats this water in a safe,
specially engineered controlled environment. The Garden was installed in
1996 by a landscape company, and planted by community groups. Even though
more planting will be done in the spring, the Garden has been treating the
wastewater successfully for two years.
"We believe we made an economical decision that will be very beneficial for
many years," says Fire Chief Robert A. Peterson. "In my opinion, this
process has to be seriously looked at by communities contemplating projects
such as ours."
A Washwater Garden uses renewable living technology to produce a permanent
solution to the dangers of groundwater contamination.
Septic/Sewer Alternatives Go Mainstream; Save Thousands:
Ecological Toilet and Graywater System
Provides Least-Cost Wastewater Solution
(Reprinted from BioCycle magazine; edited)
Jim and Marilyn MacDonald, Hingham, Mass. remodeling contractors, thought
they had lost thousands of dollars on the four-bedroom home they had
renovated as an investment property.
When they prepared to sell the home, the septic system was deemed failed
under Title 5, the state's newly tightened on-site wastewater disposal
regulations. The leaching field was right on bedrock, and wastewater
drained into wetlands. There was no alternative site for the leaching bed.
At first, it looked like the couple's only option was to install a holding
tank. Installation cost would be only about $2,000, but the pumping fee at
16 cents a gallon would cost the home's inhabitants $19,272 a year-or
$385,440 over a 20-year mortgage. That made the home virtually unsaleable.
The MacDonalds had heard that Title 5, in addition to raising standards for
waste treatment systems, had also approved several alternatives to septic
and holding tanks. The couple made a few phone calls, and linked up with
David Del Porto of Sustainable Strategies, a Concord, Mass.-based
engineering firm that specializes in alternative wastewater systems.
Within four months, the couple had a cost-effective solution. The home, now
sold, will be installed with an ultra-low-flush toilet that flows to a Vera
Carousel Composter in the basement. The home's gray water will drain into a
Washwater Garden, an aerobic, trench-based planting system where the water
evaporates and is absorbed by plants specially chosen for their high
transpiration rates. The home's new owners will still have to service the
composter once a year, but composting will reduce the material in it to 10
percent of its original volume, according to Del Porto. Once a year, the
homeowners can either empty the composter themselves (the resulting humus
has the look and odor of garden soil) or hire a septage hauler to empty it
for a minimal fee. The system is much like one his firm developed for
another couple in Wellfleet on Cape Cod.
"It got us out of a tough situation," says Marilyn MacDonald. "No one
wanted a house that was going to cost as much as $20,000 a year to run. And
we're thrilled with the broader consequences of this system, the ecological
Book on Better On-Site Wastewater Treatment to Be Published!
Sustainable Strategies' David Del Porto, with editor Carol Steinfeld, will
be penning a practical book on on-site technology, including ecological
engineering and composting toilets. David, who has direct experience with
more than 6,000 composting toilets, patented solar composting, developed
the Wastewater Garden and serves on the NSF International wastewater
treatment technology standards development committee, is undoubtably one of
the world's few experts on these technologies. We'll report more when the
release date is finalized.
The Sustainable Strategist
the newsletter of
Ecological Engineers, Designers & Architects
152 Commonwealth Avenue
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