Mama Gone Green is a blog dedicated to raising happy children and reducing our impact on the Earth. My name is Taryn and I am the mother of 2 young kids and an environmental studies instructor at a community college in Portland, Oregon. Please join me as I journey through life as a mama, teacher, knitter, photographer, gardener, and environmentalist!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Eco-Friendly Architecture and Living Machines

My class on the eco-roof (reflected in the mirrored building)
Last week I took my class on our weekly field trip (yes, college students get to go on field trips too... at least mine do!). We headed to the airport to one of the on-site office buildings. It is a new Leed-Platinum-certified building with a whole host of sustainability features incorporated into the design.
The building included an eco-roof (complete with honeybee hives), geothermal heating and cooling, large windows to capture daylight and minimize the need for lighting, reclaimed wood paneling, recycled carpets, and a bunch of other designs helped to increase efficiency and decrease resource use. However, the coolest part of this building is the "living machine" that sits in the lobby. This 'machine' is an on-site sewage treatment plant that cleans and recycles the non-potable (essentially toilet water) within the building. No need for transporting the water to a sewage treatment plant, which means big energy savings, and major reductions in the buildings water use.
This system was so cool, and was just sitting there in the lobby, looking like a big planter. It made me wonder why all new buildings today aren't constructed like this... Is it the cost? The worry about the system failing? A possible smell? It just seems to make sense to capture your wastewater and re-use it, even if it is only re-used to flush toilets. 
I have read about several municipalities who recycle 100% of their water and turn it back into drinking water. The system we saw doesn't do that, but it wouldn't take much more to bring it to that next level. I think the main issue when we discuss water recycling is the mental image that people can't seem to get past.... If that water was previously inside a dirty toilet, and now, after cleaning it, people are expected to drink it? At first, it does seem a little grotesque. However, the water coming out of your tap is likely cleaned sewage water that was them dumped back into a river (where more pollutants combine with it, probably making it dirtier) and then re-cleaned before coming out of your tap. The same water that we are drinking now has been around for millions of years. It has been polluted, it has been peed out by dinosaurs, it has traveled through the gills of a fish. After much thought and debate inside my head, I have decided that I would be OK with drinking recycled wastewater (assuming that it has been cleaned!). I think that this living machine is the first step in bringing people's awareness to our water use, and how our water use and energy consumption can be significantly reduce by acting more like nature. By taking care of things on a local scale, by re-using and simplifying, and by re-thinking the way that we approach problems.
Would you be willing to drink recycled wastewater?
Eco-roof plants

Lower eco-roof

Living Machine in lobby of building.

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  1. Wow, what a great experience and what a great spot!! Hmmm...yeah I think I would, as long as it was cleaned :) I guess I would want to know how it is cleaned too :)

    We are on a well here, with septic collecting our waste. We have a large weeping bed so water is returned to the earth.

  2. Fascinating! These are definitely the kinds of changes that we need to see more of. I wish I had the answer to why it isn't done more often.

  3. This was really interesting. I would like to take your class. I am sure that modern technology can recyle waste water until it is pure enough to drink. I think we all probably take much worse things (chemical wise) into our body just with the heavily processed food we consume. Thanks for this post. I learned something!

  4. Very cool building. I hear what you are saying about the water. It is a hard image to overcome....but im a mom now, I deal with gross allthe time ;)

  5. this is great post . alfa india like to take your class. we are sure that modern technology can recycle waste water until it is pure enough to drink. we are manufacturer Sewage treatment plants