Just like in a small city, cruise ships have on-site waste recycling plants packed with trash-eating appliances. Cruise ships have a water-treatment system on board and all the wastewater onboard is collected and absolutely nothing goes overboard unless it is first run through a treatment plant.
Sanitary wastewater on ships is divided into three categories, black water which is anything flushed in toilets, grey water which is collected from bathroom sinks, showers, laundry and kitchen and bilge water which contains oils released from equipment in engine compartments that collect at the bottom of the vessel.
Toilets on board cruise ships are connected to vacuum suction lines that direct the waste to marine sanitation farms onboard the ship. This siphons out the water from the waste, treats it until it's drinkable, then pumps it into the ocean. Solid waste is broken down by aerobic bacteria in storage tanks, which are emptied ashore about once a month. So how does this work.
Firstly the wastewater is run through the advanced wastewater-purification plant on the ship. When black water enters the integrated treatment system it first passes into a bioreactor ‘aeration chamber’ which is filled with bacteria that break down organic contaminants dissolved in the wastewater. The sewage then enters a membrane filtration system to further filter impurities. In the ‘settlement chamber’, dense substances sink to the bottom and the water floats to the top. The residual sludgy material is repeatedly returned for reprocessing. At the end of the cycles the remaining material is disposed of in low-emission incinerators.
Finally the clean sewage enters the ‘disinfection chamber’ where any remaining pathogens are sterilized by UV radiation. This leaves clean safe and bacteria-free water which is transferred to a storage tank until it can be discharged. The water is either kept on board or discharged overboard when the cruise ship is at sea with a certain distance from land in order to meet the different local and international regulations. The ability to discharge water depends on where the ship is located, as some oceans and areas prohibit the practice.
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