The Varieties of “Beneficial Use”

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A certain person I know well claims that, for his psychological well-being, an occasional fine cigar is beneficial.  That determination is based on weighted values known only to him, and arguably with willful and sublime ignorance of the values held by, say, his wife.  

Spouses aside, individuals are pretty much free to deem whether something is beneficial to them or not and take it from there. But in public policy, others get to decide what is beneficial for the rest of us.  

This post is about the “beneficial reuse” of biosolids, which got me thinking about who declared their reuse to be so, and how, where, and when it’s considered a good thing. 

How biosolids come to be.  Wastewater treatment relies on both physical and biological processes to clean water. Primary clarifiers physically remove most of the organic materials simply through settling them out as primary sludge. The remaining soluble organic matter that passes on to the aeration tanks is biologically converted by bacteria. The bacteria multiply, so to keep their population in check, a portion of them is “wasted” out of the system to digesters along with primary sludge. Sludge digestion is either done aerobically or anaerobically (some sludges are incinerated), but under the EPA 503 Rule, the end product becomes “biosolids.” Read more 


Paradigm Shift

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Many communities around the globe are looking to source-separated organics programs to manage food scraps. In fact, according to BioCycle the number of these programs in the US has increased 50% since 2009. But not everyone is able to participate in green bin programs ‒ or willing to. (The city of Ottawa, Canada has heard from opposing residents for a while and one could argue officials might try to “handle” the matter a bit differently.)  Disposers, as a way of discarding non-compostables like meat products, can be a tool to complement green bins, especially in multi-family residences where the logistics of collecting food scraps is a challenge. With nearly 60% of all US homes already using a disposer, a great opportunity exists for diversion without a single additional cent invested in green bins or collection equipment of any kind.

Densely-populated areas are seeing a proliferation of start-up businesses in . . . food scrap collection. All that an entrepreneurial young urbanite needs is a bicycle, a trailer ‒ and a place to dispose of the waste.

Disposers are traditionally utilized for kitchen clean-up to discard of food prep scraps and post-meal, for cleaning plates. But what if people used them to get rid of all food scraps? It could significantly reduce the 34 million tons of food waste generated in the US every year, most of which ends up at landfills and incinerators.  US EPA

Brain Drain

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Anyone in the municipal sector’s wastewater industry knows that as the rank and file reach retirement age, we need to work hard to recruit new people to manage and operate our treatment facilities.

Even with a slow economy and tight job market, certain trades are suffering from the next generation’s lack of interest and skills.  My company’s affiliation with the plumbing trade makes me aware that the trades are suffering from the same lack of “new blood.”  It’s even more dire in the wastewater field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment of water and liquid waste treatment plant and system operators is expected to grow by 20 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

NOTE: Data in this table are rounded. See the discussion of the employment projections table in the Handbook introductory chapter on Occupational Information Included in the Handbook

 A growing population and the increasingly suburban geography of the United States are expected to boost demand for water and wastewater-treatment services. There’s a conundrum for hiring employers.  Recruits need strong math and science backgrounds and will require certification or licensing. That requires experience, but candidates with both don’t exist or have better opportunities.  So what’s the solution?

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