When it comes to treating your home’s waste water, there are two basic choices: a shared central sewer system or an individual septic system.
Although most houses in America are hooked up to central sewer systems operated by local governments, approximately one in four homes depend instead on some form of individual septic system, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
But which is better for the environment? You might be surprised.
Most people assume shared sewer systems are easier on the environment. After all, the bad stuff goes off your property and away to a central municipal processing plant that cleans the water and returns it to the environment. From this simplified view, it can easily seem to be the neater, more environmentally friendly solution.
But that’s not the whole story. In fact, central sewer systems can pose significant threats to the environment, many of which are avoided with individual septic systems.
Central Sewer Systems
One of the bigger drawbacks to central sewer systems is that they aren’t 100-percent effective at treating waste-water. In most cases, these systems lower the amount of contaminates in waste-water, but they don’t eliminate them altogether. This becomes a problem for the environment because municipal sewage treatment plants discharge huge quantities of treated water into rivers and oceans, where even small amounts of contaminates can have serious impacts over time.
Even worse, the water that sewage treatment plants release sometimes isn’t processed at all. Facilities can get overloaded, pipes can break, and pumps can fail. When these sorts of breakdowns occur, raw sewage is sometimes released into the environment.
And regardless of how thoroughly central sewage treatment plants may decontaminate the water they discharge, the sheer volume of water they release poses a serious problem for the environment. In most parts of the country, water is becoming increasingly scarce. Wastewater treatment plants discharge into waterways that lead to the ocean. The water from the treatment plant is therefore removed from aquifers, further contributing to the water shortages that plague many regions.
Individual Septic Systems
In contrast, individual septic systems operate locally, minimizing environmental impacts beyond the immediate area surrounding the system. And individual septic systems allow decontaminated water to return to aquifers instead of being piped far away, thereby reducing water-supply issues. According to the EPA, “Adequately managed decentralized wastewater systems are a cost-effective and long-term option for meeting public health and water quality goals, particularly in less densely populated areas.”
But the key to the environmental benefits of an individual septic system is in proper installation and maintenance. If a septic system is inadequately designed, incorrectly installed, or poorly maintained, the environmental advantages can be offset or negated altogether.
Maintenance Is Crucial
Unfortunately, many homeowners don’t give septic system cleaning and repair any thought until the system completely breaks down and causes obvious problems. The EPA says approximately 10 to 20 percent of onsite waste treatment systems are not operating properly, which pollutes the environment and creates public health risks.
Proper septic system maintenance is one important way you can make a difference for the environment. Consult a reputable septic system contractor for specific recommendations on how to maintain the effectiveness of your system. By taking this small step, you could do a world of good for the environment.