Poop power; converting waste to energy

DISCLAIMER: Just a warning, while this story is fascinating – it’s also kind of gross. If you’re eating dinner, you may want to look away.

White City, Ore. —  Only on NBC5 News — we recently ran a story about Portland using poop power. It turns out, Medford’s water filtration plant is also leading the way in a different type of waste management.

The City of Medford’s been using the poop-to-power process since the 1970’s. As crazy as it sounds – simply, it takes everything you flush down the toilet or send down the sink drain to help power its filtration plant.

“If it goes down the toilet, if it goes down the bathtub, if it goes down the kitchen sink, it comes here,” said Tom Suttle, Medford Water Reclamation Division.

The city’s water filtration plant isn’t a regular plant, it’s eco-friendly.

“Half the power that we need to run the plant – about 50% of the power comes off the co-generation system,” Suttle said.

The first step of that process is at the bar screens.

“Where we’re standing this is absolutely raw sewage. That rake – it’s just like a yard rake. It’s going to go down and rake the bar screen and it puts it on a conveyor and the conveyor takes it to the dumpster,” Suttle said.

Here’s where the plant finds some interesting treasure.

“A golf ball, some ID tags, we occasionally see money,” Suttle said.

From there, the sludge passes through grid basins.

“These classifiers, separate the grit from the water – the grit ends up in this dumpster. Nuts, rice, sand, coffee grounds, corn,” Suttle said.

All in preparation for the digesters – which works like your stomach.

“The digestion process of the solids that we remove is what causes the methane that runs that engine,” Suttle said.

That engine is loud,  big and it works hard – for you.

“That’s used in the plant process, in the heating the buildings, and other parts of the plant,” Suttle said.

The system saves the city around $15,000 each month, and putting your poop to work to bring you clean water.

Here’s something to think about next time you flush the toilet! From the time you send something down the drain in Medford, to the time it comes through this grate – it takes around six hours. The whole process of your sewage going through the system can take anywhere from 15 to 16 hours.

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