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Every Community Produces Biosolids – How Do We Manage Them Sustainably?

November 24, 2017

We all produce biosolids – how do we work together to manage them sustainably? In 2008, when we volunteered with a housing project in the Philippines, the first priority was to get the sewage to the river as fast as possible, as there was no option for a septic system due to the high water table. It was not a sustainable solution, but the immediate health of the residents was the first priority. Many in our world have been and are dumping our wastewater and sewage in our waterways for years, even today. Unfortunately, it does have an impact in our oceans, on the sea life, including the fish that we eat. We are finding that we are increasingly accountable for our waste management, we can no longer make it  “disappear”.

As we work to reduce the impact of our wastewater systems on streams, lakes, rives and oceans, we are producing more biosolids. There are two reasons for this (Yoshida et al 2014):

  1. More communities and persons served by centralized wastewater facilities, and
  2. Enforcement of stricter wastewater regulations.

Given the increased amount of biosolids being produced, how do we manage these biosolids in a socially and environmentally acceptable manner?

Reuse of biosolids into agriculture has been increasing worldwide, with substantial research showing the benefits of recycling the nutrients and organic matter back to the land. The benefits of returning the nutrients and the organic matter must be taken into consideration with other concerns.

“This first French conference on phosphorus recycling in agriculture showed the need for further dialogue between different Ministries, between science, farmers and industry, and with other societal stakeholders, in particular opening discussion with the agri-food industry. This should address the implementation of the nutrient circular economy (regulation, economy, logistics, organisation) and also the societal aspects of acceptance of organic residual use in farming (contaminants, risk assessment, image of secondary products).”  European Phosphorus Platform 2017

Given some of the concerns with returning biosolids back to the land, we have to respect that there are those that prefer incineration of biosolids as possibly a more acceptable alternative, however, there are also significant air pollution concerns with this practice (Fullana et al. 2004).

We need to work together to resolve some of these questions. Biosolids will be with us for as long as we are on this planet. One of the key strategies will be source control – to understand what we are putting in our wastewater, and the impacts that it has on our environment, both water and soil.

In the next posts, we will discuss pharmaceuticals and phosphorus in biosolids, their impact, and how we can work towards good management.


European Phosphorus Platform. 2017. Scope Newsletter.

Fullana, A.S., J.A. Conesa, R. Font and S. Sidhu. 2004. Formation and Destruction of
Chlorinated Pollutants during Sewage Sludge Incineration Environmental Science and Technol. 38: 2953-2958

Yoshida, H., C. Scheutz, and T.H. Christensen. 2014. Life cycle assessment of sewage sludge treatment and its use on land.


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