Building a natural wastewater treatment system as part of a new Trans Canada Highway interpretive centre and rest stop could protect the environment and water sources, a Saskatchewan Polytechnic student believes.
The educational institution’s recent Applied Research Student Showcase featured 39 videos of students explaining how their projects could help solve real-world problems. The provincial college shared the videos of the applied research projects online for judges and industry partners to adjudicate. The adjudicators then named projects as first-, second- or third-place winners, along with an Industry Choice winner and a Joseph A. Remai School of Construction winner.
The virtual showcase was an example of Sask. Polytech’s efforts to maintain annual celebrations and traditions through online events during the coronavirus pandemic.
Edward LaFayette, a student in the architectural technologies program in Moose Jaw, won $500 as the Joseph A. Remai School of Construction recipient for his project entitled, “Integrating a ‘living machine’ into a building design.”
Also, Andrew Brittner, a student in Environmental Engineering Technology in Moose Jaw, won $500 as the Industry Choice recipient for this projected entitled, “Development of a project geographic information system (GIC) for the former Husky Refinery site in Moose Jaw.”
The living machine
LaFayette’s project focused on building a natural wastewater treatment device that could be included in the construction of a hypothetical Trans Canada Highway interpretive centre and rest stop.
According to Environment Canada, more than 250 billion litres of wastewater flow into Canada’s water courses every year, while sewage and wastewater are rarely discussed during public discourse about humanity’s effect on the environment, he explained in his video. However, sewage and wastewater can have a negative effect on the environment, the economy and air quality.
“An appealing solution to these impacts is a natural wastewater treatment system known as the living machine, or sometimes called the eco-machine,” LaFayette said.
Living machines are natural wastewater and sewage treatment technologies that emulate wetland ecosystems by filtering waste, nutrients and pollution without the use of toxic chemicals or excessive energy, he continued. This system can be integrated into a building design and offer a greenhouse environment that is attractive and educational while contributing to visitors’ health and well-being.
Created by ecologist John Todd, each living machine is unique to the specific project but all follow the same principle of using bacteria to break down solids and absorb the nutrients. A booster tank at the end of the process would pump the water through a UV filter, while a holding tank would use the treated water for sinks and toilets.
LaFayette used information from Texas State, the Government of Saskatchewan, Statistics Canada and the Water Security Agency to determine how much wastewater would be generated at a highway rest stop. He determined that 18,706 litres would be created per day, which was too much for the limited building size of the hypothetical scenario. Therefore, wastewater from only a family washroom should be treated.
Since “living machine” is trademarked, LaFayette suggested the term “natural wastewater treatment system” would have to be used for the highway rest-stop building. The building should face south so it can act as a greenhouse to promote growth of plants, while energy efficient materials should be used. Transparent treatment tanks would allow visitors to see the process of how the wastewater is treated, along with a video kiosk explaining the process.
“The building can act as a living system that can educator visitors in their role in the natural wastewater cycles,” he added.
Quoting the late ecologist Eugene Odum, he added, “‘We are able to breath, drink and eat in comfort because millions of organisms and hundreds of processes are operating to maintain a liveable environment.’ … This is also a reminder that our waste must function as part of the system.”