March 22, 2019

Sewage Treatment as Freedom

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana—yes, that Mayor Pete who’s been garnering a lot of positive press recently—got me thinking about sewage treatment in a new way.

He’s been talking about freedom, among other things, freedom safeguarded by governments serving people: freedom to leave a job and start a business without losing health coverage, for instance; freedom to sue your credit card company; freedom to marry whomever I love (and not to have that decision made for me by a county clerk); and the freedom that comes “with paved roads and stop lights.”

There’s more: “I think about wastewater management as freedom. If a resident of our city doesn’t have to give it a second thought, she’s freer.”

That’s from a profile in Rolling Stone last August. What he means, I think, is that if government does its job of serving people well—if people can flush their toilets and not worry about where waste goes or epidemics that might ensue—then we are all freer to be self-actualizing, to spend our time and effort devoted to our families and enriching our communities.


Yet those are the services governments provide that we often take for granted, the less visible but all-so-vital services of paved roads and safe bridges, of clean drinking water, swept streets, collected garbage and treated sewage. (If you want to dip in further to Mayor Pete’s discussion of wastewater, here’s a link to a wonderful and engaging podcast called Water in Real Life with Mayor Pete that was broadcast this week. “Sometimes I even talk about wastewater and the meaning of life,” the Mayor said in his interview. “There are 100,000 people [in South Bend] who are going about their lives…It’s harder to go to school, start a business, whatever’s important to you if the basics aren’t taken care of and that’s why you could argue that water and wastewater are one of the most important and empowering inventions ever produced by mankind.”)

Mayor Pete’s new book, Shortest Way Home, even has a chapter titled “Talent, Purpose, and the Smartest Sewers in the World.” I ask you, who wouldn’t want to read a meditation on the importance of wastewater infrastructure?

Today is World Water Day. Let’s use this as a prompt to contemplate and appreciate the way water flows through our lives and through us, how dependent we are on clean water, how much pleasure we derive from playing in and with water, how much of our economy and ecology utterly depends on ample water.

Today, especially, I want to thank the 1,865 employees of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for guaranteeing my freedom and treating my waste. You are true public servants, and we owe you big time.

Can You Dig it?

Beginning on April 3 and continuing each Wednesday morning from 9 until noon, you can swing by any of the District’s wastewater treatment plants and pick up a 20 lb. bag of EQ (Exceptional Quality) Compost and an oak sapling to plant in it. For more information on the District’s compost, go here.

Can You Ditch It?

MWRD is co-sponsoring a Hazardous Waste Collection Day at Brookfield Zoo on Saturday, April 13 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Area residents will be able to dispose of their household hazardous waste in an environmentally-friendly manner at the North Parking Lot, 8400 W. 31st Street, Brookfield.

Items accepted for disposal include:

  • unwanted medicines
  • chemical cleaners
  • aerosol and oil-based paints
  • paint thinners
  • antifreeze
  • weed killers
  • insecticides
  • pesticides
  • similar hazardous household products

Batteries and electronic waste will also be collected. (Smoke detectors, agricultural chemicals, controlled substances and sharps will not be accepted. Latex paint is not considered hazardous and can be disposed of in household trash.)

Book Now for My Summer Solstice Celebration

Book your place now for my annual summer solstice celebration on Thursday, June 20 at the Erie Café.

Thursday, June 20
Erie Café in Chicago
536 W. Erie
Free valet parking and a Divvy stand nearby
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