A Children’s Book About Wastewater Reaches Parents by Way of Their Kids

Honolulu’s water utility creates an award winning children’s book that compares bodily processes to the way a treatment plant cleans water.

A Children’s Book About Wastewater Reaches Parents by Way of Their Kids

The 28-page book has bright-colored graphics to highlight key points and make information about wastewater treatment understandable for kids.

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When Markus Owens started working at the Honolulu Department of Environmental Services, he saw plenty of materials on recycling and trash, but nothing on wastewater.

As public information officer for the department, he set out to change that — by writing a children’s book. “If you want to educate parents, educate the children first,” says Owens, who joined the department in 2008. “Kids come home and tell their parents what they learned in school that day. They become great stewards for the rest of their lives and teach their own children to do the same.”

The Department of Environmental Services treats about 107 mgd of wastewater for its more than 900,000 residents. The collection system includes some 2,100 miles of pipes and 72 pump stations. The wastewater is delivered to nine wastewater treatment plants spread over the island of Oahu and either owned or operated by the city and county of Honolulu.


Owens’ 28-page book, Anatomy of Wastewater, has brightly colored graphics to highlight key points about the wastewater process and make the information accessible to kids. He wrote the words over a year, and an in-house artist created the graphics showing a Hawaiian family.

The book starts with the Aloha family enjoying a picnic at Kaka’ako Park in Honolulu. The young son, Kimo, asks his parents where his spam musubi goes once he swallows it. His mother, a doctor, and his father, a clean-water plant operator, realize that their explanations will be similar.

Mrs. Aloha explains that when Kimo eats, his body works much like the way wastewater is treated. The food goes through a long tube into his stomach, then passes through his large and small intestines. Along the way, the body keeps the nutrients and gets rid of the waste materials, all through chemical and biological processes.

Mr. Aloha tells Kimo that is similar to what happens at the treatment plant where he works: The water he uses at home goes down the drain or is flushed down the toilet; from there it goes through pipes to a pumping station and then on to the plant.

Large particles are filtered out and the water continues to a large holding tank where oils are skimmed off the top, and solids are scraped off the bottom. In the next step, microorganisms eat remaining solids. This step continues until the water is clean.

Kimo’s dad then tells his son that the treated water is then released back to the environment, where Mother Nature further cleans it. He says a treatment plant is the last line of defense against water pollution.


The first printing of the book in 2011 was 10,000 copies at a cost of one dollar each. Funding came from the utility. Owens researched all the elementary schools and libraries on the island and personally drove copies to them all. About 50 schools received copies, and so did five state libraries.

The department promoted the book on its website, in a news release and through social media. It has been distributed at trade shows and job fairs, and handed out at the department’s offices for residents who stopped in.

In addition, during an office trick-or-treat for the neighborhood, parents who drop by with their children for candy can take a copy of the book, which is displayed on a counter. It became so popular that the department did a second printing of 7,000 spiral-bound copies.

“Some parents comment that they still have the book from the years when they read it to one of their older children,” says Owens. “It is rewarding to know that it was so well received and memorable.” There is no charge for the books, which are available in a digital version at www.honolulu.gov/rep/site/env.


Upon a suggestion from a colleague, Owens entered the book in the 2021 National Association of Clean Water Agencies awards competition. It won in the category of Public Information and Education for Printed Materials.

As schools reopened after the COVID pandemic, Owens received invitations to give presentations. He uses the book to help explain the department’s services to the kids. 

“Teachers are asking me back, so they must be enjoying the book, too,” he says. “And that’s a good thing.”  


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