A “living system” is a fancy way to talk about living plants and how they interact with their ecosystem. An Eco Machine is a specific brand of living systems designed by Dr. John Todd of Ocean Arks International. The concept cycles waste water (and solids) through a strategic system of plants and fish to filter, clean, and finally return that purified input back to the land.
Ocean Arks International has developed these systems for uses ranging from municipal waste facilities, Highway rest areas, and cleaning waste water from a chicken processing plant.
South Burlington Municipal Eco-Machine, a prototype built with an EPA grant, took in the sewage generated by 1,200 residents (80,000 gallons). It was a pilot project to gauge the feasibility of creating an eco machine at this scale.
“Fuzhou, a Chinese city of 6 million people, empties its commercial wastewater and sewage into an 80 kilometer network of canals throughout the city before emptying into the Minjiang River. A 600-meter canal named Baima, considered one of the worst in the city, had extreme problems with odor and floating solids created by the influx of 750,000 gallons per day of untreated domestic sewage.
In 2002, John Todd Ecological Design collaborated with Ocean Arks International to design a Restorer on the Baima canal using 12,000 plants composed of 20 native species. Constructed with a walkway down the center, the Restorer has met water quality goals and created a prized recreation area for the members of the community. The Restorer was able to reduce odors, eliminate floating solids, and drastically improve the aesthetics of the neighborhood. The clarity of the water in the canal increased from less than 6 inches to several feet, while meeting several secondary effluent standards (2).”