Posted by: Francis Koster Published: October 24, 2009

“Eco-Machines” – A Better way to Treat Waste Water

“Eco-Machines” -  A Better way to Treat Waste Water

by Jonathan Kennedy

“Eco-Machines” on Track to Replace Traditional Wastewater Treatment Facilities

Living “Eco” Machines are a mature technology making standard wastewater treatment facilities obsolete. Eco-Machines cost about half as much to construct as conventional sewage treatment plants, boast reduced operating costs [i], require no chemicals [ii], are odorless, scalable [iii] and create a garden-like landscape. Most importantly their design integrates sustainable ecological principles with highly efficient handling of human waste.

Developed in 1981 by Dr. John Todd (winner of the 2008 Buckminster Fuller Award), the Eco-Machine is a wastewater treatment concept that takes inspiration from the natural water treatment systems used in wetlands. The design incorporates helpful microbes, plants, and aquatic animals into diverse, self-organizing and responsive communities. The system utilizes some 200 native species that soak up the nutrients of the solid and liquid waste while bacteria and microbes on the plant’s roots break down the pollutants. As the sewage proceeds from one area of specific plant species to another, snails and fish contribute until sparkling water that is good enough for irrigation, toilet flushing, or car washing is produced. These living wastewater treatment facilities are capable of achieving tertiary treatment standards that meet and often surpass municipal discharge requirements. [iv] 

Eco- Machines are simply solar-powered, accelerated versions of the water treatment facilities found in mature natural systems. 

Eco-Machine systems:

  • Are more cost effective to build and run than conventional treatment facilities
  • Are scalable and can handle steady or periodic flows of wastewater
  • Use reliable technology that is simple to operate
  • Save money by cutting water costs and municipal discharge fees
  • Produce harvestable vegetation that can be sold as agricultural compost [i]
  • Require no chemicals
  • Achieve water quality ratings that meet/surpass municipal discharge requirements [iv]
  • Are carbon neutral/negative as the plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and operational energy is derived from the sun. [iv] 

The Eco-Machine principles reflect sustainable technologies that bridge human activity with nature by emulating natural systems. The cost effective design emulates nature thus promoting economically viable and ecologically sustainable solutions. Eco-Machines are but one of many options available today for industries and communities to decrease their ecological footprint and participate in a restorative ecology of commerce. 

Working examples of Eco-Machines can be found at

  • Interstate 89 Rest Stop in Sharon, Vermont (visitors welcome)
  • Darrow School in New Lebanon, New York State (visitors welcome, call in advance)
  • The Town of Bear River Wastewater Treatment Facility in Annapolis County, Nova Scotia, Canada (tours by appointment)
  • Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio (visitors welcome)
  • Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, New York State (call in advance)
  • Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples, Florida (visitors welcome)
  • Pilot Program, 2002 Old Ft. Weaver Rd., Ewa Beach, Oahu, Hawaii (tours arranged in advance) [iii]






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