Recycling is all about taking waste and making it usable again. The ultimate in recycling, then, would be taking actual human waste and turning it, for example, into a product that helps people cope with that waste — i.e., toilet paper.

It’s no joke. This miracle of Israeli-developed technology comes from a company called Applied CleanTech which uses a unique sewage solids recycling system, to produce material that, among other things, can be used in the paper and pulp industry, including toilet paper, along with packaging materials, plastics, alternative fuels, and more.

ACT’s Sewage Recycling System technology offers a better way to recycle water, allowing water treatment plants to prevent the production of sludge (the leftovers after the process of recycling of sewage is completed) by extracting the solid waste before the recycling process begins. Sludge, a mixture of waste and water that is left over after the usable water has been “mined” from sewage, is useful in some situations as fertilizer and in others as a fuel source. In most cases, though, sludge needs to be disposed of, by incineration or dumping in a landfill.

Applied CleanTech CEO Dr. Refael Aharon (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Applied CleanTech CEO Refael Aharon (Photo credit: Courtesy)

It’s an unfortunate waste of resources, according to Applied CleanTech’s CEO, Refael Aharon.

“Our vision is to revolutionize the way sewage is viewed — waste water is a positive resource, not a burden. Instead of attempting hopelessly to reduce or eliminate the amount of sludge formation in the sewage treatment process, we take the approach of sewage mining and recycle the bio-solids into a new efficient and reusable high quality product, in addition to saving on pollution, energy, and costs to the waste water treatment plant operator.”

What results from the SRS treatment is a product called Recyllose, which Aharon calls “a revolutionary commodity,” similar in texture and use to cellulose (in fact, much of Recyllose consists of recycled cellulose fibers extracted from waste water). Cellulose is the main component of plant cell walls and the basic building block for things like paper and many textiles.

As a cellulose substitute, Recyllose can be used to replace wood or processed plant materials in many products, something that not only benefits the environment (since fewer trees need to be cut down, and there is less sludge to dispose of), but can also be a moneymaker for municipalities that install SRS systems, as they can sell the Recyllose to local manufacturers and pocket the profit.

ACT has been in business for seven years, using most of that time to perfect SRS – which, over the past two years, has been deployed in a number of places in Israel and abroad. This week, Aharon will present a study that shows how the city of Safed in northern Israel, which uses ACT’s technology, has reduced costs by 20% and slashed sludge formation by 55% (thereby saving money on disposal costs as well) at its municipal wastewater treatment. The study will be presented at WATEC Israel 2013, an international conference on water technology that will highlight some of Israel’s latest and greatest technologies in water conservation and recycling, anti-desertification efforts, and sewage treatment, among other things.

In addition to benefiting from the savings on processing, the city also saved money on energy costs because it used the resulting Recyllose as a biofuel to power the treatment plant. In addition, the study showed, the city realized significant environmental benefits, including a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, a reduction in the use of chemicals to treat wastewater, and a drastic decline in noxious odors from the plant.

Besides Safed, ACT has installed systems in other cities in Israel, including Beit Shemesh, and in several other countries, including Croatia and Mexico.

“We’ve gotten great results from these programs, and we are ready to go global,” said Aharon.

“The market is now mature, and wastewater treatment plants are ready for new technologies. There is no one else doing anything else like what we are doing,” Rafel added. “You could call us the first ‘sewage miners’ in the world.”