Ask Eartha Steward: Where does it go after we flush? |

Ask Eartha Steward: Where does it go after we flush?

Special to the Daily
High Country Conservation Center

Yesterday on a composting field trip I was reminded of a funny line in the movie “Envy” with Jack Black about a man who invents a spray that makes dog poo disappear. Somewhere in the movie a crowd of protesters gather to shout, “Where does the poo go?” as they wonder what really happens to the disappearing dog doo.

As we should all know by now, nothing just disappears, even with a magical vaporizing spray. We’ve learned the hard way that pouring wastewater directly into waterways doesn’t make it go away or dilute it enough to let nature take care of it.

There just is no “away” when we throw something away. When we flush, it goes somewhere and today I’d like to explore what happens to our flushed leftovers in Summit County. (Let’s get the bad jokes out of the way: Flush once for Denver, twice for Texas. Funny stuff.)

Here in Summit County, we have five main wastewater treatment plants that treat and process our wastewater. They are located in Silverthorne, Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper Mountain and Summit Cove. Wastewater is a term that refers to anything we flush down the toilet or wash down the drain.

Our wastewater treatment plants use a variety of natural processes to take our sewage through a variety of stages to eventually get it clean enough to release back into our waterways. These natural processes involve mixing to separate liquids from solids as well as some aerobic or anaerobic digestion methods (a fancy way of describing composting or biodegrading processes). Some treatment plants even use natural wetlands to process the liquid before it’s released.

Rest assured, the wastewater treatment plants use rigorous testing to make sure the treated water is safe to return to our lakes and rivers. In fact, some of the most serious problems come not from what our bodies produce but from what we pour down the drain.

Pesticides and herbicides are especially problematic as they can persist through and sometimes inhibit the treatment processes. Other materials, like harsh cleaners, antifreeze and petroleum-based products are also problematic. Fortunately, all of these materials are collected by the County’s Household Hazardous Waste Program which runs April through October each year.

Recent studies in streams outside of Boulder and other Front Range communities have even shown detectable levels of prescription drugs that pass through our bodies and the wastewater treatment processes to end up in fish and other aquatic life, showing again how some things don’t really go away.

But what really fascinated me on the composting field trip to A-1 Organics’ Rattler Ridge composting facility in Keenseberg was what happens to the biosolids (which is what we call the leftover solid organic matter from our wastewater treatment plants).

These biosolids from all over Colorado are carefully mixed with wood chips and turned into an amazing soil amendment in as little as 90 days.

Currently in Summit County all of our biosolids are sent to Climax Mine which is located between Summit and Lake counties where they are mixed with wood chips and composted on site to use in their reclamation and revegetation efforts.

The field trip to A-1 Organics Tuesday was meant to help teach our Summit County recyclers and elected officials about the composting process in an effort to help create our own composting program up here in Summit County.

The sights and smells of the composting facility were wonderful and had to be experienced to believe. With hundreds of tons of biosolids cooking in windrow piles, there was hardly a smell in the air. The finished compost product was a rich, dark, moist soil that smelled like garden dirt after a good rain.

A-1 Organics does multiple tests on its finished product to ensure good texture, moisture, nutrient content and even successful seed germination. You can find out more about this amazing Colorado company at

Summit County’s plans are to create a composting program this summer where we compost the wood chips from the beetle-kill trees and construction waste and the biosolids from a few of our treatment plants. After that phase of the program is going, the county recyclers will start a pilot project to see how food waste can be collected from local resorts and breweries and worked into the compost program.

Composting is one my favorite ways to recycle as it keeps our material in a beneficial loop locally. If you’ve got the composting bug as bad as I do, contact the High Country Conservation Center for information about how you can start composting in your backyard. As we like to say, compost happens ” even at 9,000 feet.

Eartha Steward is written by Carly Wier, Holly Loff, and Beth Orstad, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Eartha believes that you can walk gently on our planet, even if you’re wearing stylie shoes.

Submit questions to Eartha at with Ask Eartha as the subject or to High Country Conservation Center, PO Box 4506, Frisco, CO 80443.

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