Waste Treatment Engineer

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Waste Treatment Engineer


We often take for granted the waste treatment facilities that exist in the developed world, such as sewage treatment plants and landfill sites. When it comes to garbage disposal, people like to think that it all magically disappears into space like the famous saying, "out of sight, out of mind". Yet there is a lot of waste that is toxic or hazardous to the environment and cannot be easily disposed of, such as medical waste, and this is where waste treatment engineers come to play.

Waste treatment engineers design equipment and develop processes for manufacturing chemicals and related products used in waste treatment, using engineering and chemistry principles. They construct and maintain environmental facilities and waste treatment facilities that are conducive to public health. They create and assess facilities in order to find solutions to our growing garbage and waste disposal problems and also keep people healthy and clean. They are constantly looking for new places and new areas to dispose of our garbage. This is no easy feat to accomplish.

Waste treatment engineers meet with health officials, architects, lawyers and contractors in order to make sure that design plans are safe and will withstand a number of conditional health variables. Safety is one of the most important issues that waste treatment chemical engineers must contend with. They create engineering plans on computers which test and predict possible problems with a structure and in this, they generate solutions. Although most work takes place on the computer, most waste treatment engineers travel to the sites to see their work in progress and to fulfill the stereotype of an engineer with a hard hat, walking around a site.

Waste treatment engineers also promote environmentally sustaining acts when it comes to waste management, encouraging source reduction, reusing products, composting food scraps and recycling. Many companies are trying to help alleviate some of this solid waste by producing refillable products with less packaging.

In recent years, many waste treatment engineers have been working abroad in underdeveloped countries in humanitarian roles. For example, some engineers are hired by relief organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) to travel to small villages in Africa and Asia and help design sanitary garbage disposal systems. Unfortunately, too many poor individuals are dying or becoming ill because they lack access to sanitary resources. Therefore waste treatment engineers manage all aspects of waste treatment projects including clean water supplies, environmental hygiene and sanitation. For some people, doing this type of work can be extremely fulfilling due to the social aid nature of the position.

Waste treatment engineers use traditional and high-tech tools like computer-aided design (CAD) systems, to solve problems and create three-dimensional designs in order to meet new challenges. They research and evaluate each project to find the most cost-effective solutions to problems while still maintaining recognized standards. Waste treatment engineers are required to constantly update their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with technological advancements in this quickly changing field.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Waste treatment engineers must be knowledgeable about math and science, especially about water, health and waste disposal. They are expert decision-makers and have good drawing and design skills. They possess good communication skills because they work closely with government officials, contractors, architects and clients. Waste treatment engineers can analyze data, review calculations and prepare cost estimates and have the ability to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings. They must be dedicated to their projects, be creative in their designs and be as knowledgeable as possible in the waste sustainability field. Computer skills are imperative, including CAD software. Finally, they should enjoy being innovative, doing work that requires precision and making solid decisions.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Analyze existing waste treatment systems to determine the efficiency, safety and sanitation levels
  • Develop sanitary waste treatment systems designed to safely decompose garbage
  • Design and operate quality and environmental control systems
  • Troubleshoot problems in industrial processing and waste treatment plants
  • Predict and analyze patterns of sewage and water-flow (runoff and flooding) and evaluate their potential effects
  • Examine the effects of landfills and garbage dumps on the health of humans who live or work in close proximity to such waste treatment facilities
  • Work out the efficiency and cost of the design
  • Write reports, proposals and budgets for the proposed waste treatment structures
  • May appear as expert witnesses in court hearings
  • Working environments for waste treatment engineers are as varied as their projects. When waste treatment engineers are not in the office on the computer, outdoor workplace conditions can sometimes be a bit hectic. For instance, when inspecting certain sites work can involve being in confined and extremely unsanitary spaces.
  • For those who work abroad, there is a lot of foreign travel involved. They usually work anywhere between eight and 10 hours each day and longer hours may be required if there are any emergencies. They often work with a team that may include professionals from other engineering and scientific disciplines, contractors, project owners, architects, bankers, lawyers or government officials.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Waste treatment engineers work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed by government agencies, especially in the municipal sector, non-governmental organizations such as the World Health Organization, waste treatment consulting firms, research and educational institutions, and many other related health and waste disposal industries. Some waste treatment engineers are self-employed and own their own engineering consulting firm.

  Long Term Career Potential  
With experience, waste treatment engineers can become project managers and eventually advance to the management of very large projects. They can eventually become the chief engineers on projects like a national composting program, work on creating reduction solutions and help create new waste treatment facilities. Some experienced waste treatment engineers may decide to branch off on their own and establish their own construction or consulting companies. Those with PhDs might teach at a university or conduct research.

  Educational Paths  
Due to the nature of the job, waste treatment engineers require a university degree in chemical or environmental engineering or in a related field of engineering. They must also become registered as a professional engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. Some waste treatment engineers also get master's degrees in their specific area, which makes them more employable.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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