King County employees share the value of recycling

People who work at King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) are committed to a healthy future for our region. We invest in recycling as part of our work – just as people do at home. We turn waste into resources that help protect our environment and climate change.

Our employees bring vast personal and work experience to this commitment. Here are three people who developed their commitment to recycling resources from their experiences living and working outside the United States.

Community Services planner Bibiana Ocheke-Ameh grew up in Nigeria. She says recycling and conservation are an integral part of her background.

“Collecting and recycling water is something we Nigerians have been doing very wisely for years in remote areas, says Ocheke-Ameh. “We never wasted anything, and especially water.”

Ocheke-Ameh says that the water table was so deep in her area that the only option was to physically haul water from a river located at a distance from her home. Collecting rain water from roofs was another option that avoided that labor.

“Everyone who can afford it has what we call a ‘cistern’ to collect and conserve water,” she continues. “But at home it’s not called a cistern. It’s just a drum used to collect water. Everyone has a drum or reservoir.”

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A cistern captures rainwater at a home in Africa.

Today,  Ocheke-Ameh educates people at home in King County.  She helps customers see the value of recycled water for uses like irrigation or street cleaning.

Ocheke-Ameh says that, “Even with the abundance of water here in the Pacific Northwest, I still have the memory of traveling very far to get drinking water, like I did when I was a little girl.”

She notes that, “Where ever you live on the earth, water is not infinite.”

“Here you can just turn on a faucet and water comes out, but I always say, ‘Turn it low, turn it down!’ ”

Before coming to WTD, Biosolids Project Manager Ashley Mihle lived in Guatemala and worked for an organization called Long Way Home, constructing a green building academy with the local community using only recycled materials. Mihle had an unusual task: creating art and a building material from cow manure.

Ashley in the garden

Ashley Mihle helped to grow food, build, and create art from recycled materials in Guatemala.

“Given that my artistic talent outweighed my ability for manual labor, my main duty was adding finish to the walls,” says Mihle. “Every day, I collected fresh manure from a cow named Mariposa. I then sifted the cow pies through a fine metal screen. It was a long and smelly process.”

 

The organization and their local team were closely tied to the Mayan community’s roots. They wasted nothing and built straight from the earth. Mariposa’s large volume of manure would not go to waste. Cow manure has fiber that helps hold sand and clay particles together in a plaster mix. This natural plaster gave the walls a smooth finished texture.

“In Guatemala, I fell in love with the practical and beautiful things you can build with trash,” Mihle says, “and even with Mariposa and her constant supply of smelly building and art supplies.”

Mariposa the cow

Mihle’s experience made working with the Loop® biosolids team at King County a perfect fit. “Every day, I get to work on a team that takes something that could easily be a waste, cleans it, and turns it into a renewable resource.”

Mihle says that what goes down our toilets can be converted into a nutrient-rich product to nourish the crops that we depend on to survive. She points out that the supply of Loop biosolids isn’t just endlessly renewable, it also helps us fight climate change.

“The process of making Loop creates biogas, which can be used for renewable energy,” she points out. “Loop stores carbon in the soil, and helps plants grow and take more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.”

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Susan Tallarico, Brightwater Education Director, has been working for over 20 years both here and abroad to connect people to their environment and resources.

Every day at WTD, she and the education team her educators pose this question to people of all ages: What happens to the water after you flush your toilet?  Most people don’t know the answer.

“I have worked throughout the United States and in developing countries,” says Tallarico. “I have found that people in developing countries such as Papua New Guinea are a lot more connected to their environment. They are connected because they grow their own food, make their own houses, and dig their own pit toilets.”

Working with Students in Papua New GuineaTallarico says that people with good water systems can sometimes forget the benefits they provide- and how we all affect them.

“In our region, many of us take clean water for granted,” she says, “but we need to be more connected to our water and understand how each of us can affect our water systems.”

Tallarico comes to WTD every day to teach people that they have a choice of how much water they use, what they put in our water- and what happens to that water after they use it.

Students Learning how water is cleanedWatch the video below and hear why WTD employees value sustainable water systems and support recovery of resources from wastewater.