When traveling, chances are you have used an airplane bathroom. Have you ever thought to yourself, how does it work? Where does the waste go?
How Airplane Lavatories Work
To understand how an airplane bathroom works, you must understand a residential bathroom. The two are not the same, but similar.
A regular toilet uses water and gravity to work and flushes either into a sewer line to be carried to a sewage plant, or into a septic tank.
An airplane bathroom does not use the water like a regular bathroom. Instead, it uses a vacuum system, and when it flushes it moves into a septic tank that is on the airplane. The pipes used are much smaller than regular plumbing pipes and they can be placed in any direction since they do not use gravity and water.
Airplane toilets use little water so that there's nothing to splash around mid-flight. Although there is water in the toilet bowl, it is only there to clean it for the next person. The vacuum system does all the work.
Where Does the Waste from Airplane Toilets Go?
The plane will not just dump the waste in the air. When the airplane lands, the tank is then emptied and dumped by service trucks.
Sometimes there may be leaks in the tank, which is referred to as blue ice on the outside of the cabin. In aviation, blue ice is frozen sewage material that may have leaked mid-flight from the lavatory. It is a mix of waste and liquid disinfectant that helps get rid of the smell. It freezes due to high altitude. Blue ice can cause damage to the plane and possibly affect the flight.
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