Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations

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The Living Machine: Providing Sustainability Plus Education

The Living Machine: Teaching the Siences

A sustainable environment provides education for students.

When we combine a sustainable environment with the education of our children, we are handing down one of the most valuable gifts to future generations!

By Linn Smith

May 8, 2015—-The Living Machine is a trademark created in 1999 by Tom Worrell. While in Africa he observed the interconnectedness of all things in nature. He returned to the U.S. to attempt to emulate this interconnectedness, developing the Living Machine, which is an “ecological sewage treatment designed to mimic the cleansing function of wetlands.” Water for all beings became his mantra, as he attempted to live and inspire others to live consciously and responsibly.

Nature’s Recycling System

For most of man’s existence, waste was part of nature’s recycling system, providing food for microorganisms at the bottom of the food chain. With population growth and people settling in large urban areas, human waste has been disconnected from the cycle. Modern waste treatment plants often send much waste to the landfills. Septic tanks can contaminate the soil and ground water, with too many in an area overloading nature’s purification system.


In a wetland, nature filters out sediment and decomposes vegetation, recycling the nutrients. Dirty water moves through the marsh, while the bacteria that clings to the wetland plants consumes some of the water pollutants. Other contaminants get stuck in the mud, resulting in cleaner water flowing out of the wetlands than flowed in.

The Living Machine

The Living Machine can be build as a greenhouse.

To simulate the wetlands, Worrell uses bacteria, algae, protozoa, plankton, and/or snails to clean the water. Pumps circulate the water, sending the waste water through several different oxygenated tanks, where solids settle and begin breaking down by a microbe community living in the roots of plants. The water then. goes through the wetland basins. These wetland basins can be integrated into the exterior landscapes of a building, built into the building or in a greenhouse. The basins are alternatively flooded and drained, just as natural wetlands are, creating many tidal cycles each day. The final stage is filtration and disinfection which leaves water clear and ready to use.

The Living Machine and Education

What’s really cool about this system is that it can and is being built in schools! It not only purifies waste water, but is used as an educational system for the sciences.

In Guilford County Schools in Greensboro, NC, a waste water system was going to cost the school district $4 million to connect to the nearest municipal treatment plant. The district went a different direction and researched onsite systems, which were sustainable and saved money. They chose the Living Machine System. The school’s waste water is sent through the system and then is used to irrigate three athletic fields.The school system is saving nearly 2 million gallons of water per year and the district saved millions of dollars! The Living Machine System provides onsite educational opportunities for students–it’s a living laboratory for biology, chemistry and environmental classes AND the athletic fields a green whether there’s a drought or not!

When we combine a sustainable environment with the education of our children, we are handing down one of the most valuable gifts to future generations!