Every time Clint and Bobbi Elston flush a toilet or turn on their tap, they make history.
Clint Elston has designed what he believes is the world's first self-containedsewage treatment system in the lower level of the couple's Afton home.
The new three-part system, the Elstons say, eventually could eliminate the need for piped water and sewer and drilled wells and septic systems.
It reuses all dish, shower, sink and laundry water, recycling it into drinking water.
But the most interesting feature: it collects food scraps and toilet "matter" in a large tank where thousands of small red worms live. The worms eat the waste, and out comes soil.
"We literally make s*** disappear," Clint Elston said. "It's all Mother Nature. We really haven't done anything; we've just automated Mother Nature."
Elston named his composter the Bio-Matter Resequencing Converter after hearing the term on a "Star Trek" episode. Two agitators - picture a huge Cuisinart set on its lowest level - spin the waste and worms five to 20 minutes each day. "I came up with the idea after looking at manure spreaders," Elston said.
The Elstons remove about 10 gallons of soil from the tank each year and use it as compost around their ornamental shrubs.
"The secret is, you've got to get the human waste and all the organic waste out of the wastewater," he said.
Once that's done, Elston said, you can recycle all the "gray water," the dirty water that drains from your sink, bathtub, washing machine and dishwasher.
Elston's gray water-treatment system involves three huge cone-shaped water tanks. Inside two of them are hundreds of little open plastic balls where bacteria live and eat the gunk that comes through the water. The water then goes through an extensive filtering process involving ozone, micron filters, ultraviolet light and reverse osmosis before it is stored in another tank.
A computer system continually tests the water and alerts the Elstons to any problems. They can also monitor the system on the Internet, he said.
The finished product is purer than bottled water, Bobbi Elston said. "You don't have to worry about 3M chemicals," she said, referring to recent groundwater-contamination problems in south Washington County. "We're using what the Lord has given us, and it's much better quality water."
She keeps two plastic Ziploc bags of ice cubes in the freezer. The clear ones are made from recycled gray water; the cloudy ones come from well water, she said. "There's a huge difference in quality," she said.
A typical house goes through 75 gallons of water per person a day - none of it recycled. The Elstons need about three gallons of water per person a day to make up for the water they lose through flushing the toilets, evaporation and drinking.
That water comes from the sky.
The Elstons use screened gutters to collect and pipe rainwater into two giant cisterns, where the water is filtered. "That's the best water in the world, because it's the softest water you can get," he said.
The three different systems that make up the self-contained, closed-loop zero-discharge sewage treatment system are sold through the Elstons' company, Equaris. The total cost is about $55,000. About 10 units have been sold worldwide.
Dave Stark, water plan coordinator for Cook County, Minn., said there is a huge need for technologies like Equaris, especially along the North Shore. Stark, whose background is in water resources, installed an Equaris system in his riverfront home about 10 miles outside Duluth.
"We live on the Lester River, a very sensitive river, and so I was looking for technologies to reduce pollution and alternatives to traditional mound septic systems," Stark said.
Stark said the gray water-recycling component makes Equaris' system particularly unique.
"That's the stretch. That's the part that makes it feel like the Starship Enterprise," he said. "It's more unique than anything that exists in the world on a household scale."
Elston, who holds three patents on the system, became interested in green design while building geodesic domes in Colorado in the early 1970s. He said he was influenced by the writings of R. Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome.
He began researching septic alternatives after installing a well and septic system on difficult soils near Winter Park, Colo. He later worked on composting toilet systems in Alaska and started the AlasCan Co., the predecessor to Equaris. He moved to Minnesota in 1995.
He said he hopes his technology can help solve the world's water woes.
"There are 1.1 billion people in the world who don't have access to clean, safe water, and 2.5 billion who don't have access to proper sanitation," he said. "We need to get more out of the water that we already have."
Learn more about Equaris Corp. online at equaris.com or by calling 651-337-0261.
Elston became interested in green design while building geodesic domes in the early 1970s. He began researching septic alternatives after installing a well and septic system "on difficult soils" near Winter Park, Colo.
Thousands of bacteria-containing plastic balls fill an aeration tank as part of Clint Elston's "greywater" home recycling system in Afton. The bacteria help purify rain and household waste water before it goes through an extensive filtering process.Pioneer Press