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What Really Happens After You Flush the Toilet

Your waste goes on a magical journey from becoming "mixed liquor" to "sludge cakes," as this photographic tour of Arlington County, Virginia's newly renovated wastewater plant reveals.
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John Metcalfe

People – I have been to the smelly mountaintop that is Arlington County, Virginia's Water Pollution Control Plant, and I come back bearing this message: Stop flushing your tampons, Kleenex and condoms down the toilet, dammit!

While doing so might seem like a quick way of getting rid of incriminating evidence, flushing does not, in fact, disappear this stuff from the face of the planet. Rather, it courses down through yawning sewer pipes to your city's wastewater treatment plant, where all the public-works employees get to stare hard at it while machines lift it away for incineration. That's if it doesn't clump up and clog the system, causing a massive sewage overflow in some hapless business far away, as was the case recently at an Arlington Harris Teeter. (The culprit: non-biodegradable "rags and debris.")