Can Biology Clean Up Sewage and Oil Spills?

From mushrooms to hair mats, quirky cleanups for man-made messes.

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


Doing Our Dirty Work

Go With the Flow Inventor John Todd’s Eco-Machines use tanks of bacteria, fungi, plants, snails, and fish to digest sewage, releasing water clean enough to be reused for plumbing or irrigation. The man-made ecosystems can filter up to 50 million gallons a day and have treated wastewater from a Hawaiian resort and a chocolate factory.

Magic Mushrooms Fungi are marvelous biological filters, breaking down hydrocarbons, PCBS, DDT, and dioxin. Mycological genius Paul Stamets has used oyster mushrooms to transform diesel-soaked soil into a bed of gourmet fungi after just four weeks. Bon appétit!

Diet of Worms Thomas Azwell, an environmental science PhD student at the University of California-Berkeley, uses worms to digest organic waste from California Costco stores; the chain then sells the resulting compost, called Vermigrow, as a soil amendment.

Good Hair Day Oil clings to hair—which makes your mop an excellent material for mopping up oil spills. Matter of Trust, a San Francisco nonprofit, collected trimmings from 16,000 salons to make hair mats that soaked up slicks everywhere from car repair shops to San Francisco Bay. And Azwell is using his worms to convert oil-laden hair mats into fertilizer.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate