By Holly Tetzlaff
Aside from being a recent high school graduate from East Northumberland Secondary School, in Brighton, Ontario, I am an active voice for wastewater treatment and its infrastructure. Whether it is talking about my science fair findings or educating elementary students that Toilets are not Garbage Cans, I have been communicating about the environmental impact and cost of abusing our sewer systems with non-flushables, for the past five years. I am passionate about this wasterwater environment issue and founded the Red Fish Route as a solution to this problem; where my main focus is to teach environmentally sustainable flushing habits to the next generation. I seize any opportunity to spread my knowledge on this topic.
What Got You Involved?
I read an article online, in November 2013, which included the image below, about flushable wipes causing problems in London, Ontario’s city sewer system. As a young scientist this issue was intriguing, and lead to further inquiry on what happens after we ‘flush.’ Delving into the subject, lead to discovering that this problem is a global issue.
Research also revealed an incident in August 2013 in London, England, when a 15 ton ‘fatberg’ was found in their sewer system. A Fatberg is a mass consisting of fats, oils and grease (or FOG), flushed down household and commercial drains, and congealed with other non-flushables to form a mass, which lurks under our streets in our sewer pipes. It is not a coincidence, that it will probably remind you of an iceberg, where the true size hides deep beneath the surface. After visiting some wastewater treatment plants to learn and gather more information, the concept of Fatbergs became the not so glamorous but important topic of my 2014 gold medal winning Canada Wide Science Fair project titled, Environmental Impact of Shifting Consumer Hygiene Trends or more simply put, Wipes vs. Pipes. Four years later, in 2018, I revisited the topic of flushables because News reports revealed in September, 2017, a new 130 ton fatberg was discovered in London, England. This fatberg, which stretched the equivalent length of the London Bridge, was the size of 11 double-decker buses, proving this global problem was not getting better but worse. My 2018 Canada Wide Science Fair project titled, Disappearance ≠ Disintegration – The Environmental Impact of Pseudo Flushables, won a bronze medal and was named the Canadian Stockholm Junior Water Prize winner.
Beginning in 2013 my initial research tested disintegration rates of commonly flushed items like flushable wipes, baby wipes, facial tissue and paper towel, against toilet paper - the only sewer approved product. Experiments included: exposure to water, agitation and strength testing and proved my hypothesis correct, that nothing disintegrates like toilet paper.
Further developing my testing methodologies and incorporating future studies from my 2013 project, my 2018 research involved controlled trials, testing current market items labelled as flushable for their relative disintegration rates. Testing included: seven day exposure to water with agitation, three hour sewer simulation, toilet bowl flush tests – low flow and regular flow toilets, no agitation with water and exposure to heat with water. Conclusions found products labelled as flushable did not disintegrate like toilet paper. Findings showed that post-experiment residual masses, left from the non-toilet paper test samples, could become sources of sewer clogs and fatbergs.
The Science Fair
I began participating in science fairs when I was in grade 5 and have always looked for topics surrounding real-world problems. Advancing from the school gym, to the regional science fair was always exciting but beginning in grade 7, being eligible to win a spot to participate in the Canada Wide Science Fair was unbelievable! The opportunity to interact with other like-minded students from around our country was motivating to do it again and again. Having the unique opportunity to compete in two different regional fairs, the Quinte Regional Science and Technology Fair and the Peterborough Regional Science Fair, has given me great exposure to more judging teams, expanded the reach of sharing my findings with the public and honed my scientific procedures, report writing and my oral presentation skills. The Canada Wide Science Fair travels across the country and I was fortunate enough to attend Windsor, ON, Fredericton, NB, and Ottawa, ON. These science fairs have been some of my favourite memories. Earning these all-expense-paid trips has allowed me to meet people and make friends from places all across Canada and spend a week staying in different university campuses; which aided my university choice for this September. I will be attending the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, the host of the 2015 CWSF, where I won a silver medal for my project titled Small but Mighty - Environmental Impact of Microbeads.
How Did You Hear About the SJWP
My first exposure to the Stockholm Junior Water Prize was in 2014 at the CWSF, when a fellow senior member of my Team Quinte, was shortlisted for the award. Until 2018, I was never eligible, as it is only for the senior division. After winning the top senior prize at the Peterborough Science Fair, in April 2018, I was so excited knowing that I would finally be able to self nominate for the SJWP. Wastewater treatment is not a topic that people commonly like to discuss; however, it is extremely important and a global issue, as it affects our environment, health and economy.
Earning a spot to compete at the Canada Wide Science Fair is the first step. Prior to the competition you can self nominate if your project covers one of the related water topics. During the competition you are interviewed by special award judges from the Canadian Stockholm Junior Water Prize committee, and three projects from the senior division are shortlisted for the award. After being named one of the three finalists, and insuring you follow the SJWP criteria, you submit a 20-page report/essay for consideration; which identifies your water issue and a proposed solution…then you hope for a successful outcome… to be named the Canadian representative being sent to the international completion in Sweden!
Experience Being the Canadian Winner
The day the announcement was to be made, naming the winner of the CSJWP, I was checking my email every hour. At 5:00pm, I checked one last time and loaded an email, reading it several times in disbelief and finally had to have my parents read it out load, before I believed I had actually won. I am so honoured and thrilled to be Canada’s representative. I am very passionate about this topic and cannot wait to promote positive change, for this water environment issue, at Stockholm. The CSJWP Committee has been extremely helpful through the preparation process for Stockholm and I look forward to travelling to Sweden and the experiences I will have touring the city, meeting the other finalists from 29 countries, interacting with experts in the water world and especially judging day, my favourite part of science fair.
How You Became Involved With WEF
My first exposure to WEF came in April 2018 through the Water Environment Association of Ontario, who sponsored the Senior WEAO Award I won at the Peterborough Science Fair. WEF is a much appreciated title sponsor of the CSJWP and my involvement with them came when I won the CSJWP. Many different organizations, including the two listed above and the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association – CWWA, as well as the Municipal Enforcements Sewer Use Group – MESUG have been very supportive of my work over the years. I feel that associations like WEF and others in the water and wastewater industries, who invest in youth science by supporting science fairs and by sponsoring awards that participants, like me, can strive to achieve, enable young people to see the important connection between experiential learning and the real world. I could not be more appreciative of all the benefits that have been directly related to me spotting that original picture, of Mr. Barry Orr, also known as Captain FOG, on the internet. I am very like minded to Mr. Orr’s idea that “pollution prevention is the most cost efficient and sustainable method to protect our sewer system infrastructure and our water environment.”
After reaching out, in 2013, to the man standing beside that fatberg found in London, ON; Mr. Barry Orr and I have developed a working connection that spans five years and continues today with a reciprocal inspiration that motivates both of us. I bookended my education with two medals from the CWSF on the topic of non-flushables, one in grade 8 and one in grade 12; with the time in-between being spent implementing my solution for this problem, which is costing Canadian Tax Payers $250 Million Dollars per year, as well as costing global economies, millions more.
After returning from the National Science Fair in 2015, I came across a quote by Dr. Marcus Eriksen, “Science without solutions is only doing half its job!” That stopped me in my tracks because it was true. What good is it if I prove my hypothesis correct, but do not help find a solution? So I entered a solution proposal to a local contest called Caring for Our Watershed where I won initial start-up money. Being part of a generation who is a product of school educational programs like litter-less lunches and proper e-waste disposal, I knew, good, life-long habits could be formed from a young age, with the right encouragement. Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Inspired by his words, I would use education, for my solution to make change.
So I founded, Red Fish Route, an environmental, educational program, aimed at grades 1-6; to teach the connection between the drains in houses, schools and city buildings, to the streams, rivers and lakes in the surrounding area. In short, it connects what we flush down our toilets and drains to our watershed. Using my love of science, I designed a hands-on experiment called “The Toilet Paper Challenge” to illustrate firsthand the comparison of disintegration rates of commonly flushed items, as well as, a static display, which shows a visual of more non-flushable items; like, make-up pads, ear swabs, unused medicines, kitty litter, toilet scrub pads, and dog feces bags, which do not disintegrate. You can find my Toilet Paper Challenge video on my Youtube channel, Red Fish Route. I created a logo; a fish, shaped and coloured red like a stop sign, to remind people to ‘stop’ and think twice before they flush. Using the logo, stickers were made for school bathroom stalls to be a visual reminder that human waste and toilet paper are the only two sewer approved flushable items. Lastly, I designed a doorknob hanger that students who participate in my program can take home and colour to personalize and hang on their bathroom door, to help spread the knowledge they have gained to their family and friends.
I have attended an international conference, called “Toilets Are Not Garbage Cans” and have been interviewed by Global News, CBC News as well as a radio interview with Wei Chen, for Ontario Morning from CBC Radio and was a guest on a local Quinte Broadcasting talk show called The Lorne Brooker Show. A definite highlight in 2017 was on June 5th, World Environment Day, when I was asked to present and be a guest panelist alongside The Water Brothers, Alex and Tyler Mifflin, who host their own eco-adventure TV series; and were holding a public viewing of their episode, The Big Leak, in London Ontario. Over the last four years I have presented my Red Fish Route program to over 6800 elementary school students and have presented to City Councils and various board members from different organizations and recently the City of Quinte West has adapted my Red Fish Route program, posting my bathroom stall stickers in all municipal public washrooms, as well as sending out my doorknob hangers to specific neighbourhoods. As one of my high school friends wrote in my year book, I am saving the world one toilet at a time!
Holly and Barry Orr (Sewer Outreach and Control Inspector in London, ON) in 2014
2014 Canada Wide Science Fair
2015 Quinte Children's Water Festival
2015 Red Fish Route School Presentation
Holly and the Water Brothers, 2017
2018 Post Experiement Residual Mass