Paper made from papyrus plants growing along the Nile River once soaked up the ink of ancient Egyptians. Papyrus may return to service for the peoples of the Nile by soaking up blood before it contaminates the river’s headwaters at Lake Victoria.

In Kampala, Uganda two slaughterhouses discharge approximately 700,000 liters (185,000 gallons) of blood and other wastes into a water channel that drains into Lake Victoria. The rotting blood and wastes pollute the watershed humans depend on for drinking water and fishing. The slaughterhouse sludge also contaminates the complex Lake Victoria ecosystem, which already suffers from sewage contamination, invasive species, and overfishing.

Manufactured papyrus wetlands may provide the people who depend on Lake Victoria with an affordable means of cleaning up that bloodbath.

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Biologists at Makere University in Kampala exposed a variety of different plants to water contaminated with slaughterhouse slop. Papyrus proved most capable of reducing excess phosphorus, nitrogen, and organic matter. The research was published in the International Journal of Technology and Management.

The study’s authors suggested that planting manufactured wetlands with a heavy proportion of papyrus to other plants could help purify Lake Victoria. Water treatment operations and pollution control systems can be expensive and out of the reach of developing nations like Uganda. Wetlands, however, are much more affordable and provide habitat for wildlife.

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Civil engineers and biologists join forces to create manufactured wetlands. Instead of filters and mechanically aerated sewage sludge lagoons, manufactured wetlands use natural processes to break down industrial wastes, sewage, agricultural runoff and other forms of pollution. Wetlands can be far cheaper to create, as long as land is available. The wetlands save money in the long run too, since they don’t require operators and need less long-term maintenance than machines.

IMAGES: Lake Victoria at sunset (Damiano Luchetti, Wikimedia Commons)