Grab this article’s metaphorical hand and hold on, because you are about to go on a luxurious, glamorous ride. We’ll begin at Chateau Toilet, and end up… OK, I’ll cut the crap. This is not pretty, but it’s damn interesting stuff that every pooping New Yorker ought to know. You know what happens on your toilet, but what happens after your gift to the world slides out of view?
According to Information Blog, Newtown Creek is the largest wastewater treatment plant in New York City, handling 250 million gallons of waste per day. Most of that wastewater comes from Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and downtown Manhattan through a unique combined sewer system. That means water from the gutters on the street, and water from your toilets are mixed. Hence, cups, unfortunate iPhones, paper napkins, human waste, and rain water are mixed together in the pipes. Here is where machines take over for humans and do the dirty work. A first layer of filtration separates big, floating debris from water and poop. Then the Mechanical Bar Screens, a finer filtration machine, takes off any remaining debris. Then those machines clean their hands and leave the real dirty work to the “degrittors” and “detritors”, who have the important job of smushing the poop into a manageable size. Let’s pour some beer on the ground for all those degrittors and detritors working long nights.
Here the poop and the water take their own separate, but equally beautiful journeys. The water enters a treatment area. First it flows across a slight slope that leaves unwanted particles behind. Then, with no further processing, it goes back to your tap! Just kidding, that would be gross and highly illegal! First it’s disinfected with concentrated bleach and then its released into as clean water. The poop has a more difficult journey. Aerobic bacteria eats away at the poop and turns it into sludge. But sludge can’t be processed down any further. Here is where those big egg like structures in Newtown Creek comes in. Funtioning like big stomachs, the eggs are filled with more bacteria at high temperatures that break down the sludge into methane, which powers the plant! The remaining sludge is sent into landfills. According to InfoBlog, “because emissions are mostly captured inside a set of tanks, the grounds smell at least as good as the rest of Brooklyn,” which is not saying much. So there you have it. Thank the fine ladies and gentlemen working at Newtown Creek, they really have to put up with a lot of shit.