Basic principles of sewage treatment for glamping, with advice from Jon Trelfa.
A top issue for glamping businesses is what to do with effluent waste from toilets and washing facilities. This article discusses several options.
Let’s start with some basic principles of sewage treatment and the various pros and cons of each… Building Regulations require effluent to drain to a public sewer. Alternatively, where this is not practicable, waste needs to be dealt with by either:
• Composting toilets
• Collection tanks
• A septic tank
• A packaged sewage treatment plant.
These all come with advantages and disadvantages. To help you understand the most suitable option to meet your requirements, you may find the following information helpful.
A compost toilet is a part of a whole waterless and eco-friendly system. The toilet is essentially the collection unit for the raw ingredients that will be completely broken down in time and made safe by the whole composting process. The other essential part being a compost unit. Keeping the collection and composting separate means that the compost toilet is an eco-friendly simple solution – and for many of our customers eco-friendly and simple is good!
A chemi-loo is a plastic flushable toilet that is often enclosed in a plastic constructed WC. You often seen these on construction sites and events – they are a standard hire item or can be purchased and owned outright. In terms of how they work, a small quantity of water is mixed with a fragrant and anti-bacterial chemical (typically called Elsan Blu). This mixture is then recirculated for a period of time before it then needs servicing (i.e. regular refilling with water and emptying of waste) by a removal tanker contractor who disposes of the waste into a municipal main sewer. Service charges will apply.
Chemi-loos can be a popular choice for start-up glamping sites where there is no mains water, sewage connection, or electricity.
Collection tanks are commonly known as cesspools. They are merely holding tanks in which effluent waste collects. Sewage flows in and is stored. These tanks are either buried or above ground. When the tank is full, the waste is tankered away by a waste service contractor incurring an emptying charge.
Collection tanks are ideal for sites where the ground is unsuitable for the waste to soakaway to the ground i.e. Sensitive sites, e.g. SSSI’s and sites close to drinking water supplies or watercourses. Their advantage is that they are a low cost and low maintenance option. They also allow the use of a flushing toilet and, for glamping businesses, this can be an advantage as everyone is familiar with this.
At Glampsan, we supply different types of these. Our above-ground low profile plastic Flat Tank range is popular with customers because they are low cost, they require minimum planning and ideal for start-up glamping businesses. For example, they can neatly fit under a shepherd hut or glamping pod.
Many rural houses, small developments and some glamping businesses use septic tanks.
A septic tank is a multi-chambered (primary and secondary) tank that uses gravity to separate solid from liquid effluent without treating the sewage. It works by solid matter, called ‘sludge’, sinking to the bottom of the primary tank. In time some sludge does naturally degrade. Grease and oil, called ‘scum’ floats to the top of the primary tank. Liquid waste separates into the secondary tank. This untreated sewage then flows under gravity to a land soakaway.
In the past, this untreated waste was allowed to discharge into a soakaway or to a natural watercourse. However, from January 2020, new regulations require liquid waste from septic tanks to discharge to an underground ‘herringbone’ network of pipes that soakaway the waste into the ground. While a septic tank is a simple and relatively low-cost installation, not all ground conditions make it viable to allow for a natural soakaway discharge.
Like collection tanks, septic tanks also require emptying, albeit typically every 12 months or so, to remove sludge and scum that eventually fills the primary tank.
At Glampsan, we think that packaged sewage treatment plants will eventually replace or bolt-on to many existing septic tanks. We think that the market trends will move on from septic tanks.
Packaged sewage treatment plant
A packaged sewage treatment plant is a compact all-in-one solution. They are the ‘ultimate’ sewage treatment solution and we think our customers will be heading this way. It’s a more sophisticated unit than a septic tank and, while there are different types of package sewage treatment plants, they all generally follow the same principles, creating an environment which facilitates the growth of bacteria which break down sewage into non-polluting end products.
Like septic tanks, packaged sewage treatment plants have the same primary treatment process that separates sludge, scum and liquid. But the secondary treatment is very different. Sewage treatment plants are designed to transfer oxygen through the sewage, enabling aerobic bacteria to break down effluent matter. Sewage treatment plants have the advantage of being far more effective than the natural bacteria breakdown occurring in a septic tank. So much so that the quality of the treated liquid is so good, it can discharge directly to a watercourse (subject to Environment Agency or SEPA consent to discharge to land or watercourse licence).
Packaged sewage treatment plants are ideal where septic tank effluent discharge to the ground is a problem or where it fails to meet current watercourse discharge regulations. Installation of a package sewage treatment plant has cost implications too (but they are not prohibitively expensive relatively speaking). Sewage treatment plants ideally suit larger glamping businesses or developments. Some package sewage treatment plants require an electrical supply to drive the oxygenating process. However, others do not.
They do require some (but not extensive) maintenance and also need emptying every 12-18 months by the local tanker service contractor.
Ultimately, different solutions will fit different needs as there is no one solution that fits all circumstances. If you would like any more information or advice on your particular set-up, please do get in touch!
About the Author
Jon Trelfa is general manager of Glampsan, a division of Plastic Solutions (Aldridge). Glampsan provides of a range of products and solutions to help capture and control waste at ‘off-grid’ glamping sites with a broad product offering including collection tanks, composting loos, sewage lifting stations, waste pumps and small waste treatment plants. 0800 999 6010 / www.glampsan.com