With a flick of the wrist, your mess disappears. This isn’t a clever infomercial on late night television, but what often happens to feces in the United States when you flush your toilet.

I vividly remember visiting Nejapa, El Salvador, a community unconnected to a wastewater treatment plant, in 2008. Kids ran barefoot and jumped in the water—liquid household waste emptied into the street and mixed with garbage—splashing their friends. Exposure to waterborne pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and worms can increase the likelihood of becoming ill.

Yet as a wastewater engineer, what I’ve learned is: God is in the business of redeeming things. Yes, even what we think is “unclean.” Rather than viewing wastewater as a waste to be discarded, a new paradigm for sanitation is recovering beneficial NEW resources from wastewater: nutrients, energy, and water.

As Christians, we know that our sin can have profoundly damaging effects—sometimes ones we don’t see or think about. So it goes with wastewater. In a working sewer system in the US, the effluent from our toilets, showers, sinks, and laundry, called wastewater, commonly leaves our homes through pipes and travels to a wastewater treatment plant. After a few treatment steps, the clean water is discharged to a river or ocean and the contaminants are often hauled to a landfill. In rural areas, septic tanks are often used to treat wastewater.

Unfortunately, 80 percent of wastewater in the world is not treated nor reused and 2.4 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. In some countries, the untreated wastewater released upstream may be someone’s source of drinking water downstream.

Furthermore, wastewater contains ...

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