MWRA 2013-2014 Writing Contest Winners

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Veronica Byrne
Grade 7, Atlantic Middle School, Quincy
Holly Rendle, Teacher


Think Before you Flush

Living by the coast is a wonderful gift, and I love swimming and walking on the beach! The smell of salty air and the sound of waves crashing against the sand always make me smile. I recently discovered, however, irresponsible disposal could affect our beautiful beaches, lakes, rivers, and the life that lives in them. Although the subject of toilets is not a glamorous one, it is connected to the most important resource on the planet: water.

First, let us examine how the sewer system works. When water leaves our drains and toilets, it goes through various pipes until it reaches the local sewage departments. The sewage then goes to the MWRA interceptor sewers and from there to the MWRA treatment plant. Once the sewage arrives at the treatment plant, it goes through pumping and collecting. During that process, large objects get screened out, while mud and sand get collected at the bottom of the tanks for later disposal at the landfill. Then the primary treatment happens where 60% of solids turn into a mixture of sludge and water. Finally, the secondary treatment occurs when plant oxygen is introduced to the water to speed up microorganism growth. After this stage 80% to 90% of human waste, many solids, and chemicals gets removed. In the end, the water is disinfected and released into Massachusetts Bay, while the sludge is repurposed into fertilizer.

Now, if we have such a great system, why do we need to worry about flushing the wrong stuff down our toilet? The answer is simple: it is dangerous and expensive to fix. People flush pills down the toilet because they believe it is a safe and easy way to dispose of medication.

Pharmaceuticals, however, dissolve in water which leads to fish and other sea organisms being exposed to the drugs. This exposure may cause them to behave strangely or may disrupt their way of life, creating all sorts of problems. Do you want that fish for dinner? I think not! It is important, therefore, to recycle medications by bringing them during special collection days to your local police station. Another item you should never flush is household chemicals like cleaners, paints, motor oils and solvents because they damage the ocean ecosystem, and may kill fish or plants if they make it into the sludge fertilizer. There is a reason they are called toxic chemicals; there is no place for them in nature! What you should do is dispose of them safely according to your community's hazardous waste policy. Now this may sound strange, but you should also never flush grease or cooking fats because they coat the pipes and create dreadful clogs. Instead, let them cool down, then throw them away. Enjoy your bacon responsibly! The last items should not be flushed are personal care items (bandages, diapers, floss, etc.) especially "flushable" wipes. Just because the package says flushable, does not meaning they are safe. They can cause sewage backups and do damage to pipes. Furthermore, fixing these problems takes a lot of money from state budgets and even your own pocket. The best thing to do is throw all of these items responsibly.

Remember, responsible waste management is everyone's duty, so think before you flush. While you may think it is easy to flush it down, unflushable items may come back to haunt you. Our wonderful world is like our house, so do not trash it!

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