The city of tomorrow will run on your toilet water

February 12, 2024


February 12, 2024

THE RESIDENTS OF the 40 floors of San Francisco apartments above our heads may live in luxury, but really, they’re just like the rest of us: showering, washing their hands, doing laundry. Normally in the US, all their water would flush out to a treatment facility, and eventually out to a body of water; 34 billion gallons of wastewater is processed this way across the country every day. But with multiple problems for cities now converging—extreme heat, water shortages, and rapid population growth—increasingly scientists are finding clever ways to extract more use from water that’s flushed away.

In this basement, a company called Epic Cleantec intercepts the building’s gray water (dirty water that doesn’t contain human waste or food scraps) and passes it through tanks and a maze of pipes for fine filtration and disinfection with chlorine and UV light. The resulting liquid is then piped back upstairs to fill toilets and urinals, taking at least some of the “waste” out of wastewater.

“By regulation, we’re only reusing the water for nonpotable applications,” says Aaron Tartakovsky, cofounder and CEO of Epic Cleantec. “Scientifically, we can produce drinking-water quality.” Indeed, the company brewed a beer with its recycled water from this building. (A kölsch, if you were curious.) “We’re turning wastewater—which in my opinion, is a term that is in dire need of a rebrand—into clean water, into renewable energy, and into soil,” says Tartakovsky.

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