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Treating Wastewater With Music Can Be the Next Big Thing

Water is getting scarce and we need all hands on deck to improve its recycling process


Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels


Talking about poop isn’t sexy, right?

But if you know how to spin it, it can become very appealing. And in this case, necessary.

When we talk about poop or waste, we fail to see that it’s part of a larger cycle. What goes around, comes around, and if we don’t take care of every step of the process, well, it can come back and bite us in you know where.

That’s what’s happening with water.

$530 per acre-foot.

That’s the price of water in the stock market today. My fellow reader, water has become a commodity.

If we don’t treat the water that leaves our body efficiently, we might have trouble getting it back in afterward.

Music can help us better manage our primary source of life. “How?” You ask, let’s find out!

First of all, what is considered wastewater?

Humans are excellent at producing waste, and wastewater is no exception.

We’re experts at harming the environment and we’ve got different ways to do it:


Simple illustration by the author

Every source has a different impact on the environment, some of these being more harmful than others.

  • Bad news: we release a huge amount of wastewater into the environment without treatment (more than 80% in developing countries).
  • Good news: we can treat it and convert it into a valuable resource.

We’ll focus on the residential source since this one is easier to reuse for human consumption and it’s less likely to have hazardous materials in it.

What’s in it?

99.9% is water and the other 0.1% is the one we need to treat.

That tiny but significant bit consists of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), fats, oils, and grease, harmful bacteria and viruses, and other solids.

Ways of treating it


Photo by Yogendra Singh from Unsplash

Now that we know what it contains, how do we treat it?

These are three common ways to deal with it:

  • Physical treatment: we can use processes like screening, sedimentation, aeration, or skimming, usually used to remove the more solid parts of wastewater.
  • Biological treatment: we’ll use this approach to break down organic matter in wastewater (soap, human waste, oils, food) using microorganisms. They’ll metabolize it through an aerobic process (using oxygen, like decomposition), an anaerobic process (without oxygen, like fermentation), or by composting it (mixing it with byproducts such as sawdust).
  • Chemical treatment: as the name suggests, we’ll use chemicals like chlorine or ozone to kill harmful bacteria and prevent them from reproducing in water.

When it comes to using music in wastewater treatment, we’ll focus on the biological technique, specifically the aerobic process so that we can enhance the bacteria’s waste degradation.

Adding music to the wastewater mix

There different bacterias that are used in a biological wastewater treatment plant.

For instance, some of the microbes that thrive in wastewater are E.choli, Bacillus, Klebsiella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Lactobacillus. They can degrade and eat biomass that would otherwise harm our water supply.

We would need to improve their efficiency by either incrementing their number, enhancing their metabolic activity, or both.

Why not use a stimulant, like sound, that doesn’t have any secondary effects like a drug would have?

I already wrote about how music could enhance the growth of plants, but in this case, the stimulation would be on smaller living beings, microorganisms.

Several studies (like Sarvaiya, & Kothari, 2015; Kotwal, Damani, & Damani, 2016; Sarvaiya & Kothari, 2017; if you want to check them out) show positive outcomes of using music to enhance bacteria’s efficiency in degrading biomass. In some cases, music increased bacterial growth by more than 40%.

In their research, scientists expose bacterias to different music styles through loudspeakers to see which type of music conveys a more beneficial outcome:

  • In one study, researchers used two E.choli and Staphylococcus aureus and exposed them to different genres. They found that Heavy Metal had the most potent effect on their growth, especially towards E.choli. For the classical music fans, don’t worry, Mozart is also beneficial for their growth.
  • In another study, they used Indian classical music which resulted in bacteria increasing their growth rate (between 3% and 40%), becoming more susceptible to antibiotics (cephazolin for instance), and changing their metabolism (e.g. protein content).

Music is a low-cost procedure that can help us treat our wastewater in a more innovative way and have a significant impact, not only on the amount of water being treated but on the costs of running this operation.

Let’s look at what a German company did by using Mozart’s music in their tanks.

The amazing case of Mundus

Inspired by Mozart’s effect on increasing milk production, this German sewage treatment plant wanted to try it on their tiny microbes.

If cows were happy when listening to classical music, why shouldn’t they try to improve the working environment of their waste-degrading microorganisms?

They built an affordable sound system that showcased Mozart’s operas, like one would hear in a concert hall. The tanks containing these microbes would be exposed to music while the team of researchers measured the production of sludge.

After a year of music treatment, the results are astonishing.

The sludge was reduced by 1,000 cubic meters and the sewage treatment plant was able to save 10,000€ on the cost of transporting the sludge.

Not bad, right?

Why is the growth of microorganisms enhanced by music?

Music consists of sound waves, and sound waves interact with the physical world. This interaction puts cells into motion which stimulates their internal processes. In fact, music can promote cell division and can enhance its growth and metabolic activity.

Sound waves transfer energy into the cell through mechanical stimulation, which will then lead to different internal processes.

But why then the preference for certain musical genres?

Well, it may be that certain frequencies and intensity levels will have a better response in microorganisms which will help them flourish in the right conditions. And it also depends on the music-cell association.

As previously noted, a study reported that E.choli had a better response to Heavy Metal (specifically to Metallica’s music) than to Staphylococcus aureus. Although both had an increase in colony growth, E.choli grew more.

It’s all about finding the right fit between music and bacteria used for treating wastewater.

The Takeaway

Water is essential for our survival. We need it for so many things, but the way we manage it wouldn’t make us think that it’s that important to us.

Part of having clean and useful water relies on improving our treatment of wastewater. There are several techniques we can use to get that water back to our life cycle, one of which is through biological treatment plants.

In this scenario, music is a low-cost tool that can raise the efficiency with which these treatment plants operate.

Certain microbes respond very well to music, and they can thrive in a sound-rich environment. It’s important to find the right fit between music genre and bacteria type, but once you can achieve that, there’re many benefits to it:

  • More workers: there’s an increase in the bacteria population used to eat the biomass that comes in.
  • More efficient workers: microbes improve their metabolic activity which enhances their degradation process of biomass.
  • Decrease in costs: treatment plants reduce the amount of sludge production and less transport is needed to take it out. We’re talking about saving approximately 1,000€ per month.

Music is not just a fun listening or playing experience, it’s also a powerful tool that can be used in so many different ways.

This is one of them. A very important one for our survival.

What’s the excuse for not using it?


By Pavle Marinkovic on .

Are you curious about the world of sound and music? Learn how music can enhance a plant’s growth, the way sound changes our sense of taste, understand the music industry, and much more!Join my newsletter to embark on this journey of sound awareness.

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