K-12 Resources – Wastewater


To protect public health and keep pollutants out of our waterways and environment, Metro Vancouver collects and treats our region's wastewater. Wastewater comes from flushing toilets, laundry, washing dishes and anything else that sends water into a drain in our homes and businesses. Each person in our region produces an average of 500 litres of wastewater every day!

The system is composed of five wastewater treatment plants and a region-wide network of sewers and pumping stations. There are more than 15,000 km of sewer pipes in Metro Vancouver (enough to stretch across Canada and back!). For an overview of wastewater collection and treatment in Metro Vancouver view:

Download Wastewater System Overview
Download What Happens When I Flush?

Learning about wastewater, and the systems and processes involved, can help us understand how we all play a role in protecting our health and the environment by being careful about what we flush or put down the drain.

K-12 Curriculum Connections – Wastewater

Wastewater can be explored through big ideas and core content of our provincial K-12 curriculum, from simpler explorations at the Elementary level to more complex inquiries during the Secondary years. Through teacher-developed K-12 resources and learning opportunities, Metro Vancouver supports teachers and students to deeply engage in curriculum-connected, place-based inquiry and learning about wastewater in our region.

Download K-12 Curriculum Map – Wastewater


These flexible activities aim to spark curiosity, develop competencies and promote inquiry.

What Are The Unflushables?

All sewers lead to the same place: our waterways. Common household items, such as wipes, paper towels, medications, hair, tampons and applicators, floss, and condoms, should never be flushed. Collectively these are known as the Unflushables and they create havoc in our wastewater treatment systems. This inquiry spark activity explores the Unflushables and what we can do to protect our wastewater system and precious waterways.

Download Inquiry Spark 1
Do this activity online!

Where Does Your Wastewater Go?

Metro Vancouver treats over one billion litres of wastewater every day! 80% of this wastewater comes from our residences, including houses, condos, apartments, and townhomes. Where does our wastewater go? How does it get there safely? This activity aims to spark student inquiry and exploration about the critical systems and processes that protect our health and environment after we flush.

Download Inquiry Spark 2


    These brief activity ideas can be adapted into more fulsome activities to guide learner inquiry.

    Healthy Waterbodies

    Core Question: How are healthy waterbodies connected to my daily life?

    Overview: Brainstorm different types of waterbodies (e.g., oceans, rivers, lakes, creeks, etc.). Refer to the Metro Vancouver Satellite Map to identify local examples of these waterbodies (e.g., Pacific Ocean, Salish Sea, Fraser River, Sasamat Lake, Pitt Lake, Serpentine River, Byrne Creek, Mosquito Creek, False Creek, etc.). Choose one local waterbody in your community or region and sketch it. In small groups, discuss the following questions:

    • How is your waterbody connected to other waterbodies in the region?
    • How is your waterbody connected to (or impacted by) humans in your community?
    • What makes a waterway healthy? What makes a waterway unhealthy?
    • What makes a waterbody worth protecting? What value do they provide your community?
    • How can we protect the health of local waterbodies?

    Write a letter to yourself detailing how you will protect your local waterbody, put it in an envelope, take it home and keep it somewhere safe to review in the future.

    Follow the Flow!

    Core Question: How is your school community connected to the nearest bodies of water?

    Overview: Find the creek or waterbody nearest to your school. Where is it compared to your school? What’s the source of this water? Which direction is the water moving? Where does the water go? What’s the relationship between students at your school and these waterbodies? Create a map to illustrate the relationship between your school / community and this body of water. How could this map help to promote awareness about protecting local waterbodies?

    The Underground Connection

    Core Question: What is the difference between Sanitary Sewers, Storm Sewers and Combined Sewers?

    Overview: Beneath the streets of Metro Vancouver are three types of sewer pipes. Each play a role in protecting the health of region and our environment. How are these pipes unique? Explore the What Happens When I Flush (PDF). Address these questions:

    • What do these sewer pipes have in common?
    • How are they unique?
    • Where do you find these types of sewers?
    • Which of these sewers is being phased out? Why?

    Flush Story

    Core Question: What happens when we flush?

    Overview: Explore the What Happens When I Flush (PDF). Ask students to write the story of a drop of wastewater that travels from their school toilet to the ocean. Ensure they include all the key parts of the journey including the pipes they travel in and treatment systems they move through. Illustrations encouraged! Key questions to explore in their story include:

    • Where does wastewater from your school go for treatment? Is it a primary or secondary treatment facility? What’s the difference?
    • What geographical and infrastructure challenges are faced through this journey?
    • What do you notice about the location of wastewater treatment pipes and facilities?
    • What additional questions do you have about the journey of your flush?

    No Pollution Solution

    Core Question: What are the impacts of small amounts of pollutants in waterways?

    Overview: Pour 250 mL of cold water into a glass bowl to represent clean water. Add approximately 1mL of any flavour of jelly powder to represent chemical pollution (e.g., cleaning agents, household chemicals). Ask students if they can see evidence of the pollutant. Would they swim in water that is as polluted as this? Slowly add more and more cold water in 250 ml increments, keeping track of total volume. At what point is the jelly powder no longer evident? Would students swim in this water now? How much would we need to dilute polluted waterways before they’re safe to swim in? How could we remove these pollutants? Ask students to investigate different ways to clean up chemical pollution.

    No Pills for the Gills!

    Core Question: Why are medicines such as dissolvable pills harmful to fish and other aquatic life?

    Overview: Show students the Never Flush Medications video. Ask them to consider why dissolvable pills and medicines could be harmful to fish. Challenge students to research how ibuprofen affects fish kidneys, then share their findings with the class. Are all medicines harmful to fish and other aquatic life? How can we remove these chemicals from wastewater before it is released to waterways? Are there easy steps we could take to limit the impact of these and other chemicals upon fish and other aquatic life? Brainstorm ideas for action. For possible actions to protect receiving waters (habitat for fish and other species), visit Better Solutions.

    Treating it Right

    Core Question: What is primary wastewater treatment? How does it work?

    Overview: The primary wastewater treatment process is similar to the natural process by which water is cleaned while moving through the water cycle. This simple experiment will develop student understanding of primary treatment. Ask the students to predict: What will happen when you add 1 tbsp plastic beads, 1 tbsp vegetable oil, 1 tbsp coffee grounds, 1 tbsp dish soap and 1.5 L water to a 2 L jug? Add contents to the jug. What happened? Record and discuss your observations. Ask the students to predict what will happen when the contents are agitated or swirled. Close the lid and shake or swirl contents for 15 to 20 seconds. Place the bottle on table. Observe what happens (after 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes). Record and discuss your observations. Review the What Happens When I Flush (PDF) to learn more about the primary wastewater treatment process. Reflect on these questions:

    • Were your predictions accurate? What surprised you?
    • Which components of the mixture sunk to the bottom? Describe these materials. Where does ‘settling’ occur during the primary treatment process?
    • Which components of the mixture floated to the surface? How are these materials different? Where do suspended materials float to the surface during primary treatment?
    • Where do these processes happen naturally (in your community)? Identify and discuss ideas and examples (e.g., streams, lakes, oceans, puddles, ponds etc.).



Where can you go to experience and learn more about wastewater in Metro Vancouver?