08/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

5 Cool Ways To Turn Trash Into Treasure

When we think of waste, we don't usually think utility. Yet, as we face droughts, limited landfill space, and depleting natural resources, we've been forced to reconsider our castoffs, with interesting results. These five case studies show that with innovation and a little planning, our dumps, sewers, and piles of manure are not necessarily the end of the line. Instead, they're just the beginning.

1. Sewage into Showers

Last summer, while the rest of the southwest was grappling with one of the most severe droughts in recorded history, a county in Georgia was sitting high on the water table. Twenty years ago, Clayton County recognized that growth and limited rainfall would make a water shortage inevitable, so they built a unique water treatment center to ensure reservoirs would remain full even in a drought. The center incorporates a 4,000-acre wetland, where treated wastewater runs through a serious of graded pools surrounded by thick vegetation to help filter out any leftover toxins. Clean water then runs into reservoirs for future use. With this system, the county is able to reclaim ten million of the twenty-six million gallons of water used annually. Although the treatment center requires a significant amount of open space, it's cheaper than building a regular treatment plant and doubles as a nature preserve.

To read the rest, including how to turn both garbage and poop into power, click here.