Washing wisely includes considering what happens to your laundry wastewater, which contains dissolved detergent ingredients, suspended solids, and microorganisms from your laundry activities.


In Australia, most wastewater is treated to produce biosolids and effluent. The destination of these products dictates what level of treatment is required. Treatment minimises any negative impacts on public health and on the environment, and increases the opportunities to recycle these products.



Coastal cities and large inland towns

If you live in a large urban community, it is likely that your household is serviced by a sewage treatment plant. Many coastal plants discharge to the ocean, but many also discharge to inland waterways within the urban areas.
Increasingly, effluent is undergoing further treatment to provide water that is recycled for various uses.


Smaller inland communities

Wastewater from smaller inland communities is usually treated at local sewage treatment plants and the effluent is discharged to inland waters or reused on land.


Isolated or dispersed communities

If you live in a small or isolated community, you are likely to have a septic tank. These rely on anaerobic microorganisms breaking down some of the suspended solids in the wastewater. The liquid effluent then drains to absorption trenches or seepage pits where the surrounding soil bacteria break down organic matter. Further treatment such as disinfection can be performed if the water is to be recycled.
Some communities are serviced by Septic Tank Effluent Disposal (STED) systems. These are designed to collect septic effluent from household tanks for off-site treatment, usually in oxidation lagoons, before its discharge to the environment, or reuse. Reasons for STED systems could be due to a region having unsuitable soils or particular environmental sensitivity.


Recycling activity

In 2007-8, Australian capital city water utilities recycled 11.3% of their total effluent, and rural water utilities recycled 19.3% of their total effluent. (National Water Commission) Some households recycle greywater for use on their garden. Click here for more information.