Digester Eggs at Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant

By Susan Anderson, Town Square and Go Green Hub.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection hosts free tours of the Digester Eggs (fondly known by locals as “Sh** for Tits” or “Poop Onions”) at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Tours for the general public take place three times a year: February, April, and October.  These tours are highly popular and sell out almost immediately!  Tours are also held for schools and camps.  I was fortunate enough to join one such tour on Friday, July 14th organized by Jamie Hook and 61 Franklin Community Garden in Greenpoint.

The tour started with a presentation at the Visitor Center at Newtown Creek.  DEP spokesperson Latoya Anderson gave a fascinating overview of NYC’s wastewater treatment system and process. There are 14 wastewater treatment plants in NYC; together, these plants treat 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater daily. The Newtown Creek plant is the largest facility and handles Brooklyn and much of Manhattan.

How does this work?

Wastewater and rain runoff enter our sewers and are filtered for trash. The resulting organic sludge goes to the Digester Eggs.  Inside the Digester Eggs, bacteria break down the sludge further. This natural process converts much of the sludge into water, carbon dioxide and methane gas, leaving what is called “digested sludge.” This eventually is processed into a granular material, that can be used as fertilizer.

A few fun takeaways:

  • Did you know that an average New Yorker uses about 75 gallons a day?  Did you know that each toilet flush uses about 5 gallons?  I’d say confidently that most of the water usage in our household derives from toilet flushes.
  • I also learned that it is not a good idea to dump oils down the drain for this will clog the sewer pipes much like your arteries get clogged by a high fat and oil diet.
  • Did you know that only ½-inch of rain will overwhelm the NYC sewers?  Wastewater and stormwater use the same pipes. This means that a bad rainstorm will breach the dams in the pipes and send raw sewage into public waterways like the East River and Newtown Creek. Yikes! Don’t go fishing right after a storm.

After the presentation, we all donned hard hats and safety vests, walked through the plant and rode up the elevator to the observation walkway on top of the Digester Eggs.  Even though it was a grey and rainy day, the views of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens skylines from the top of the Digester Eggs were spectacular.  If you are interested in visiting the Visitor Center at Newtown Creek, please call 718-595-5140.  More information can also be found on the NYC DEP website.

Photo credit: Susan Anderson. Left to right: Hugo, Ziggy, Beckett, Latoya Anderson, David Bookbinder, Scarlett, Sandra Nydegger, Maya, Clare Maniuz, Tennessee, Holly, Susan Anderson, Jamie Hook.