The revolutionary method of using a root zone to treat wastewater – an organic waste management system – is finally being practiced in Greece by the food standardization firm GAEA. In April 2001, GAEA began implementing an international patent by Dr. Reinhold Kickuth at its new factory in Aigion after seeing an article in Kathimerini last summer. Our initial idea was to construct an ordinary waste treatment plant such as you find in other factories, said Dimitris Paraskevopoulos, GAEA’s vice president. During the design stage last summer, I happened to read the article in Kathimerini about the natural waste treatment method and that’s how it began, he said. The way it works Kickuth developed his method, based on the self-regulating processes of active soil systems, about 30 years ago at Kassell University in Germany. Instead of adding microorganisms and oxygen to break down the chemical or other toxic substances, he used the greatest reactor in nature – soil itself. Simply put, a depression is dug beside the factory and lined with plastic so that the wastewater does not penetrate to the water table. This depression is then filled with soil and the necessary nutrients, and planted with specially adapted reeds, which GAEA imported from Germany. The combination of the action of the soil, roots and microorganisms living in the soil, as well as the natural and chemical processes involved, guarantee the complete and comprehensive processing of wastewater without the need for any other intervention. Nature takes over. The microorganisms and topsoil compounds break down the toxic substances, the plant roots carry oxygen down into the soil, keeping the microorganisms alive, the soil maintains and activates the pollutant material preparing it for breakdown, and the plants provide the necessary chemical energy to operate the installation. Best of all, these natural conditions allow for the adaptation of about 100 times more specialized kinds of microorganisms that break down the different difficult kinds of pollutants than conventional methods do. Positive results There are several benefits from his method. First of all, the self-regulating processes limit the need to monitor, unlike conventional systems that require the services of a chemical engineer permanently on site. Secondly, no mud rich in biomass is produced during the treatment process, an unresolved problem in conventional methods. The mud is dried out at great cost to the companies and usually ends up in landfill sites, although in Greece no one is sure where it ends up. The only by-product of the root system is clean water. The size of the installation is also variable, so that even a private home can have one. Unlike conventional methods that break down when they are left dormant for a period of time, nature does not break down. These systems can last for over 50 years and become more effective as time goes by. Finally, the root system consumes from 1 to 10 percent of the energy required by conventional sewage treatment systems (which is usually about 35 kilowatt hours annually per inhabitant), so saves both money and energy. For us it was quite a bold move, Paraskevopoulos told Kathimerini. It was hard to explain the method to the authorities as they knew nothing about it. Moreover, even our foreign associates were hesitant. In the end, however, the method’s environmentally friendly aspect interested us as being in line with our philosophy and so we decided to go ahead. We have not regretted doing so. Even at this early stage, the results are particularly satisfactory and we are expecting an improvement, since the plants have not yet reached full maturity, he said. The GAEA root zone system covers 350 square meters, which as Paraskevopoulos says, is also aesthetically better. In other units abroad, the systems can be extended or incorporate older wetland systems. Even small areas of marshland can become a breeding ground for rare birdlife, particularly those threatened with extinction. In the town of Othfresen in Germany, with a population of 4,500, a root zone system has been set up to cope with the waste from an abbatoir (corresponding to the waste from 3,000-4,000 residents). Until the system was set up, they did not know how to conserve an old wetland in the area. Now it is richer than ever; rare birds and animals have returned and are breeding. Hence conflicts between states or groups belonging to the same civilization (N. Ireland, the Basques in Spain) as well as coalitions between different civilizations (Israel-Turkey) are no exceptions in a world swept by civilizational conflicts.