The sewage treatment process +

The sewage treatment process
Taking the
As well as getting safe, clean and reliable
water to you, we also have to take it away
once you have used it. So, when you
empty the bath, flush the toilet or use
your washing machine, it’s our job to
make sure that all that used water - now
called ‘sewage’ or ‘wastewater’ - is put
safely back into rivers.
In some areas we collect the rainwater
that runs off roofs, roads and pavements
in a seperate system, called a surface
water sewer.
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Back to
the river
Surface water goes straight into a river,
which is why you must not pour any waste
water into surface water drains.
However, in some areas, including central
London, surface water and sewage are
mixed together, before being treated at
our sewage works.
Did you know?
We have over 43,500 miles of sewer, 2,530
pumping stations and 1.2 million manholes.
Taking the wastewater away
When you flush the toilet or empty the sink,
the wastewater goes down the drain and into
a pipe, which takes it to a larger sewer pipe
under the road.
The sewer then joins our network of other
sewers and takes the wastewater to a sewage
treatment works - sometimes it needs to be pumped there.
1. The first stage of cleaning the wastewater
is to remove large objects that may block or damage equipment, or be unsightly if allowed back into the river. This includes items that
should never have been put down the drain
in the first place - such as nappies, face wipes,
sanitary items and cotton buds - but often
can be things like bricks, bottles and rags!
2. The wastewater often contains a lot of grit that
gets washed into the sewer, so we have
special equipment to remove this as well.
At the sewage works we put the wastewater
through several cleaning processes so that it can
be put back safely into rivers..
Did you know?
In London we have a team of sewer flushers who
regularly inspect the large Victorian sewers to
ensure that London’s waste keeps moving!
Did you know?
Over 55,000 sewer blockages each year are caused
by people putting the wrong things down the drain.
As a result, 7,000 homes and gardens are flooded.
The message from our sewer flushers is
“Bin it - don’t block it”.
Primary treatment
The wastewater still contains organic solid
matter - or human waste. The next stage is
to seperate this from the water, and to do this,
we put the wastewater into large settlement
tanks, which causes the solids to sink to the
bottom of the tank. We call these settled
solids ‘sludge’.
In a circular tank, large arms, or scrapers,
slowly move around the tank and push the
sludge towards the centre where it is then
pumped away for further treatment.
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The water passes over a wall near the top of
the tank and is taken to the next stage of the
treatment process.
Did you know?
We use the sludge to generate renewable energy
which on average saves us £15m per year in
electricity costs. At our sewage works in Didcot,
the sludge is used to generate renewable gas that
supplies up to 200 homes in the area - a UK first.
Secondary treatment
Although the visible bits of sludge have been
removed, we have to ensure that the smaller
and sometimes invisible nasty bugs are also taken out.
At our larger sewage treatment works, the
wastewater is put into rectangular tanks called
‘aeration lanes’, where air is pumped into the wastewater. This encourages the good bacteria
to break down the nasty bugs by eating them.
The more they eat, the more they grow and
multiply until all the nasty bugs have gone.
Final treatment
The treated wastewater is then passed through a final settlement tank, where the good bacteria
sink to the bottom. This forms more sludge some of it is recycled back to the ‘secondary
treatment’ stage, and the rest goes to
‘sludge treatment’.
The now clean water passes over a wall near
the top of the tank.
Sometimes additional treatment is needed
if the river that the treated wastewater will
be returned to is particularly sensitive.
Sludge treatment
The sludge we collect at the start of the process
is then treated and put to good use. Most of it
is recycled to agricultural land for farmers to use as fertiliser, but we also use it to generate
energy. We do this in three ways:
Combined heat and power - this process treats
the sludge using a process called ‘anaerobic
digestion’. This is where the sludge is heated to
encourage the bacteria to eat it. This creates
biogas that we then burn to create heat,
which in turn creates electricity.
2. Gas to grid - we can also clean the biogas to
a higher standard (known as biomethane) so
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Did you know?
Our 350 sewage treatment works treat 2,800
million litres of sewage every day from our
14 million customers.
The treated wastewater is slowly filtered
through a bed of sand, which acts as a filter
and catches any remaining particles.
that we can put it into the national gas grid
to power homes, businesses and schools.
Thermal destruction - this process involves drying
the sludge into blocks called ‘cake’, which are
then burned to generate heat. We capture this
heat and turn it into electricity.
Did you know?
We’ve been generating electricity from waste for
more than 50 years and have the largest renewable
generation capacity inside the M25*
*excluding the commercial electricity generators.
Back to the river
The quality of the cleaned wastewater is strictly
Now the wastewater is clean, it can be returned
to local rivers and streams. In some areas, the regulated by the Environment Agency, and we test
it to make sure that it meets high-quality standards.
water we put back into the river is very
important as it helps to keep them healthy.
The quality of the cleaned wastewater is strictly
regulated by the Environment Agency, and we
test it to make sure that it meets high-quality standards.
Thames Water is the UK’s largest water and sewerage company,
serving 14 million customers across London and the Thames Valley.
© 2001 - 2011 Thames Water Utilities Limited. All rights reserved. Thames Water Utilities Limited,
Clearwater Court, Vastern Road, Reading RG1 8DB. Company number: 2366661 Registered in England and Wales
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