On-Site Wastewater Treatment: Turn Blackwater into a Green Opportunity

01/24/2014 | By Jennie Morton

Reclaim sewage with a membrane bioreactor

Ready to turn your building into its own waste treatment facility?

Putting a Price on Water Independence

Don’t focus solely on how many gallons of water a membrane bioreactor can reclaim. There are a number of other operational expenses that are incurred when you independently treat water.

For example, a 2005 study in the journal Water Environment Research estimates that MBR operational costs are approximately $1.77 per 1,000 gallons treated.

To calculate if treating your own wastewater is less expensive than your current utility rates, gather these data points to understand the true cost of blackwater reclamation.


While greywater and rainwater harvesting are popular conservation strategies, blackwater remains a murky proposition for many properties. Until owners take the plunge, they can be hindered by concerns about odor, safety, performance, and occupant acceptance.

But don’t be fouled up by these misconceptions – you can save thousands, if not millions, of gallons of water by using a membrane bioreactor (MBR), an activated sludge system that treats wastewater. This tested technology will drastically reduce your utility and sewer costs while providing clean water that can be used virtually anywhere in your facility.

A Raw Deal
Building owners who adopt wastewater treatment are typically well on their way to water independence. Their facilities already use low-flow fixtures and irrigation controls and harvest rainwater and stormwater to reduce potable water demands. Blackwater recycling is simply the next step to closing the water loop.

While many areas of the country still enjoy inexpensive water, discharge rates and stormwater fees are driving up utility bills. Buildings pay for water twice – once for potable needs and again to discharge sewage – so there’s strong motivation to become part of the process. Even more so when you consider that very little water in your facility needs to be treated to drinkable standards.

“By taking on the cost of water treatment, you gain a level of control over your utility rates,” says Paul Schuler, engineered systems region executive for the Americas with GE Power & Water, a manufacturer of wastewater technology.

Reclaiming wastewater is also a powerful way to reduce your environmental impact and relieve pressure on your municipal infrastructure. Consider how far away your building is from your local treatment plant – every mile represents energy that’s required to pump water and sewage back and forth.

“One of the biggest advantages of water recycling is that it decentralizes the wastewater treatment process,” says Tracy Cort, operations manager for the firm Vision Engineering. “Water is harvested and reused where it’s needed the most: your building.”

Blackwater recovery can also help you earn green credibility. LEED, for example, offers up to six points for water reclamation and reduction strategies. Particularly if you are aiming for Gold or Platinum, water recycling is an important area to target. Blackwater treatment is also a necessary strategy for projects pursuing the Living Building Challenge, which requires net-zero water for certification.

Because wastewater recovery is such a clear signal of pushing the green envelope, it will make your property stand out from others in your market.

“The marketing message that a building reuses all its water can be a powerful differentiator when looking to increase occupancy,” says Josh Gleason, a business partner for Treatment Equipment Company (TEC), a supplier of water recycling systems.

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