Brief background on septic systems:
In areas that lack proper sewage treatment systems, a septic system is used to contain all waste which humans make. These septic systems are installed in areas that have a minimal connection to the main sewage pipes in the surrounding neighbourhood. Most of these septic systems are controlled and maintained by private corporations or by the local government. Additional components may also be provided, such as pumps and filters, as well as additional disposal systems, including drain fields and ponds.
Function of septic tanks:
Certain types of septic systems utilise septic tanks. Septic tanks are a form of on-site sewage facility. Several countries incorporate the use of septic tanks and they are usually found in small towns and suburban and rural areas. Larger cities normally do not utilise septic tanks due to the space requirement for their large drain fields. Septic tanks are usually installed outside the corresponding building, usually around a large open space, and are generally constructed of concrete or hard plastic. Modern septic systems are usually equipped with two chambers. Each chamber acts as the ‘filter’ element in the septic system, separating the main solids and liquids.
How does it work:
A septic system works when all the waste produced inside a household is funnelled into their separate outlet pipes. Eventually, these pipes connect to a main pipe that connects to the septic tank. In the first chamber of the septic tank, the collected waste gets separated into two major parts. The heavier components (waste) sink to the bottom. This heavier component is called “sludge”. The latter, called “scum”, floats to the upper surface. In between the top and bottom layers, one finds a relatively clear liquid called “effluent” or “grey water”. In the first chamber of the septic tank, an anaerobic bacterial environment takes place naturally due to the decomposition of waste. From there, the clear liquid is moved along into the other chamber where further settlement occurs. After that, the more clarified liquid is finally processed along a drain outlet and dispersed into the drain field.
How are they emptied:
Any waste (sludge) that does not decay in the anaerobic bacterial environment must be removed manually from septic tanks. If the waste is not removed, a degradation of the septic tank’s functionality will certainly occur. The less ‘purified’ waste will continue to the last process of the septic waste management and this waste will be ejected into the natural environment. This could prove to be a nightmare and would be considered an environmental hazard. Furthermore, this ‘unpurified’ waste may clog up the drain chambers and may force a disastrous ‘back flow’. If left unmaintained, huge maintenance cost will likely occur. To make matters worse, the dumping of oil, grease, food waste, non-biodegradable solids and liquids with high salt concentrations certainly will degrade the septic tank’s performance. Due to this fact, periodical inspection and maintenance is recommended. The frequency in which inspection occurs depends on the size of the household and septic tank itself.
When are they emptied:
In some countries, the individual households are responsible for the management and maintenance of their personal septic tanks. In a more controlled environment, health authorities and inspectors usually require the tanks to be drained at certain intervals. Typically, several septic systems require extraction after a few years or even sooner. Again, depending on the septic system itself, intervals of 10 to20 years between pumping is also common. Normally, a certain measurement is made during any inspection process to determine when a septic tank should be drained. To be safe, yearly inspection is probably recommended to prevent any unwanted mishaps.
Where does the waste go:
Gone are the days when disposal companies could dispose of waste in specialised dumpsites. Due to the health hazards that occurred from these past systems, modern waste treatment facilities have been put in place. One might wonder where the waste from these septic tanks is brought. In a government-controlled environment, the government itself provides the rules and regulations to where the waste goes. However, there are a few other possibilities, such as direct dumping into a municipal sewage system or delivery to independent for-profit companies. Several waste treatment facilities also refine waste to transform them into fertilisers. Farmers usually gain the advantage of cheap fertiliser, as municipal systems don’t have to worry about what to do with the waste. Finally, what is probably the most staggering use of septic waste, would be its use to create electricity. This astounding provision is made available through treatment plants. In these facilities, methane gas is produced and broken down to generate electricity through the use of fuel cells. What’s even better is that the electricity produced does not combust, hence resulting in a clean and efficient electrical power source.