wastewater treatment

A below-deck look at reycling and wastewater treatment on Holland America's Zaandam

While the 1,432 passengers aboard Holland America's Zaandam, are enjoying a five-course meal at one of the ship's plush dining venues or unwinding with a hot-stone massage in the vessels'  full-service spa, crew are bustling below, sorting out tons of waste and recyclables.

The Zaandam is one of 11 ships operated by six major cruise lines making weekly departures for Alaska from Seattle's Elliot Bay this summer.

Environmental organizations have long charged cruise lines with producing extreme quantities of waste. According to Bluewater Network, which merged with San-Francisco-based Friends of the Earth (FOE) in 2005, even a week-long  trip generates serious garbage:

"A typical cruise ship on a one-week voyage generates more than 50 tons of garbage, two million gallons of graywater (waste water from sinks, showers, galleys and laundry facilities), 210,000 gallons of sewage, and 35,000 gallons of oil-contaminated water."

But cruise industry representatives maintain crew aboard their vessels are making cutting-edge efforts to be more sustainable.

Everything Zaandam passengers throw away, said Joe Parks, one of Holland America's environmental officers, is sorted by crew members and stored on the ship until the vessel can offload it at a port.

The sorting room (pictured above) is two floors below the first passenger deck. The room has a full-time staff of 6-8 members who separate glass, paper and cardboard, aluminum cans and trash. The recyclable materials are compressed: boxes are broken down and machines hum and clamor, pressing  bucketloads of glass and cans.

Seattle pledges more pollution control to help Puget Sound

The city of Seattle and King County will step up efforts to prevent raw sewage from flowing into Puget Sound and its tributaries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

But the steps are small compared to those called for by environmentalists who want to see Puget Sound and the Duwamish River cleaned up. The current schedule gives Seattle until 2020 and King County until 2030 to almost completely end pollution from so-called "combined sewer overflows." (PDF)

These sometimes-smelly oopsies result from a piping system that mixes untreated sewage with rainwater runoff. Most of the time it's a good system because the rainwater -- aka stormwater, the largest remaining water pollution source in the country -- goes to a wastewater treatment plant.

But when a lot of rain hits overloaded systems like the one King County and Seattle operate, the whole mess comes shooting out into waterways. Sometimes the stuff backs up into streets or even basements.

Major pollution discharges into the Duwamish River are scheduled to continue for decades, despite today's order and despite what's supposed to be a  major EPA effort to clean up the Duwamish.

Such discharges happened 336 times in the Seattle-King County system in 2007, the most recent figures available.

A surprising number of these overflows happen during relatively dry periods after little or no rain.