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What happens after you flush

We all flush daily, but how much do you really know about what happens next? Ipswich First visited Queensland Urban Utilities’ Goodna Treatment Plant to find out.

It happens quickly. The water rushes into the toilet bowl, then it’s gone again. We don’t give it a second thought as we carry on with our day.

That’s not the case for Jason Lee.

As plant manager at Queensland Urban Utilities’ Goodna Sewage Treatment Plant, it’s his job to be across what happens next.

Driven by a sense of community service, Jason has been working in the wastewater industry for about nine years, having come to the industry after a career in the mines.

“It’s an industry that’s not going anywhere and I enjoy working for the community, that sense of serving the community is part of the payment,” he said.

“It would be a much different society without us, we’re really the first line of public health. Even with good hospitals and other services, the weight of sickness would be significant without clean water and sewerage services.”

For the past two years he has headed up the team that works across Ipswich’s four treatment plants, located at Goodna, Bundamba, Carole Park and Rosewood.

Between them, the four plants treat 40 megalitres of sewage per day, the equivalent of 16 Olympic swimming pools.

The Goodna plant is the pride of the fleet, a state-of-the-art facility which has even drawn international interest for its  membrane filtration technology.

So here’s what happens next

Stage one: mechanical filtration

After leaving your home, wastewater travels through the sewerage network, which consists of more than 1600km of sewer pipes in Ipswich. It enters the treatment plant at the inlet works, where solids – including items that should not be flushed such as wet wipes and cotton buds, and even toys – are screened out.

The Goodna plant uses a dual-screen process, flushing the sewage through a 5mm screen followed by a 2mm screen. The rubbish is collected in large bins and sent to landfill for disposal.

Stage two: biological filtration

Wastewater flows to an oxidation ditch (also known as a bioreactor) to remove organic wastes and nutrients such as phosphorus, nitrogen and carbon. A controlled population of waterborne microorganisms “chew” on the waste and nutrients to break them down.

To keep the population of microorganisms in the bioreactor healthy and consistent, each day about five per cent of the biomass is removed and de-watered, then transported to Oxley Creek Sewage Treatment Plant in Brisbane, where it is further treated and converted into renewable energy.

Stage three: back to nature

Finally, effluent flows from the oxidation ditch into what are called membrane trains. Here, the effluent is filtered through about 70,000 square metres worth of very fine membranes before it is returned safely to the environment.

The state-of-the-art membrane technology at the Goodna treatment plant means that chlorine is not required to disinfect the water, which is better for the environment.

QUU’s Shane Stuart checks out one of the screens at the inlet works.

The oxidation ditch where microorganisms do their work.

The membrane trains.

Jason Lee shows the straw-like filters the wastewater passes through inside the membrane trains.

Despite what you might expect, the plant does not smell. An onsite odour control facility helps with this.

How to keep your pipes healthy:

    • Remember the three Ps: Pee, poo, paper – only flush these things.
    • Bin is best for these: Wet wipes, cotton buds, tampons, cotton balls, hair, bandaids, nappies.
    • Sinks and these items don’t mix: Cooking fats, tea leaves, coffee grinds, food scraps.
    • Paper towel is your friend: Use it to wipe grease from your pans and put it in the bin, before washing the pan.
    • Wipes are never flushable: Don’t flush wipes, even if they’re labelled flushable.

square metres of membrane at Goodna plant

Kilometres of sewer pipes in Ipswich

megalitres of sewage treated per day in Ipswich

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