For as long as humans have been around, so has human waste. The history of septic tanks and sewage treatment methods have changed from their humble beginnings of dumping into rivers to modern systems.

history of septic tanksThe Indus Valley Rivers

The Indus Valley civilizations and the surrounding Mesopotamian cities were dependent on the region’s rivers and fertile lands to survive.

They would pull and divert water from the rivers for farming, drinking and other daily uses. However, the rivers were also their disposal grounds for human waste.

For this reason, their disposal plan was one of the first in recorded history and extremely simple: always dump downstream. This process was easy enough for a population that lived on the banks of the river.

Rome and Greece

As other technologies advanced and schooling and the arts began to take hold in societies, city center began to flourish farther and farther away from prominent water sources. With this came a new problem: how to transport and dispose of waste away from the city?

The Greeks answered with the first flush toilet, allowing households to dispose of their waste into city pipes and sewers.

The Romans also created their own sewage system, the now famous aqueducts which carried waste water through the city and out into the surrounding agricultural areas. Waste was predominantly sent to sewage farms and then used as fertilizer during this era.

The Beginnings of Waste Treatment

As populations and waste amounts grew, the question transitioned from where to dispose of the water to how to minimize the amount of waste that needed disposal.

John Gibb of Scotland was the first to address this problem with sand filters in 1804. He started with trying to desalinize ocean water by pouring the water through sand and having it filter out contaminates. This filtering technique was later applied to filter wastewater.

The next method to come about was chlorination. It’s origins started with William Soper who used the method to decontaminate the waste of typhoid patients in 1879.

These methods were both significant steps at the time, but over the years more treatment and filtration systems were developed leading to the modern day methods of waste disposal, treatment and management.

History of Septic Tanks

Septic Tanks as a wastewater management system happened by accident.

In 1860 France, John Mouras built a reservoir to store his home’s wastewater. Ten years later, he went to empty and disassemble the tank only to be surprised to find that the tank was virtually empty except for a small layer of wastewater scum.

Following this discovery, many households began to adopt septic tank systems with the design making its way to the United States in 1883.

During the 1940s, septic tanks saw a boom during WWII and the rural expansion movement, which took people farther from cities as well as waste treatment centers.

In the 1960s as people began to flock back towards city centers, waste treatment centers could not keep up with the increase in populations and septic tanks gained a foothold and became more prevalent in large cities.

Today’s Septic Systems and Waste Treatment

Waste Treatment method developments have begun to plateau, with current methods showing efficiency and effectiveness. The big debate now: septic systems or city water management. With growing environmental concerns and the desire for saving money, more and more people are turning toward septic systems for their wastewater needs.