Charting the Future of Biosolids Management

Recently, the National Biosolids Partnership (NBP) and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) hosted a workshop on December 1 and 2, 2010 in Alexandria, VA to "chart the future of biosolids management"1. The workshop was attended by approximately fifty biosolids professionals reflecting a range of background and experience, including biosolids managers, consulting engineers, academic researchers, equipment and service providers, and federal and state regulators. Diane Garvey of Garvey Resources, Inc. was among the experts in the field of biosolids management who were invited to speak and present papers.


The objectives of the workshop were to identify emerging trends in biosolids regulations, public policy drivers, technology, operations and management and to address the need for continued research and professional training in the next few years. The information gathered as a result of this workshop will support the development of a report designed to inform future NBP and WEF activities as well as assist biosolids managers and others in the sector to better plan for and manage future challenges and opportunities.

The topics for the workshop sessions at the meeting were derived from a background paper prepared for WEF by CDM. The paper, "Charting the Future of Biosolids Management: Background Materials for Discussion,"2 provided a synthesis of relevant information from current literature summarized in four sections:

·        Regulatory and Policy Trends

·        Technology Trends

·        Operations and Management Trends

·        Professional and Training Needs

Each of these topics was broken down into more specific areas of interest in the various sessions at the workshop and the subsequent findings and suggestions can be found in detail in the Meeting Summary (available through WEF). There were also two "action" areas addressed:

·        Biosolids Manager Responses

·        Potential NBP and WEF Actions and Opportunities.


In summarizing the findings and discussions from the workshop, it was noted that substantial regional differences exist in the acceptance and management of biosolids with regard to the three main options available to biosolids producers: land application, incineration, and disposal in land fills. In many regions, programs are operating with little opposition and any of these options is possible, while in other areas substantial local regulatory or public perception pressures constrain management options. 1


Yet through the many discussions held during the workshop, a consistent picture emerged of the current and future challenges and opportunities facing the field of biosolids management. The challenges that caused the most concern among many participants included the loss, severe restriction, and/or increased cost of management options. Among other concerns voiced by the participants were the persistence of negative public perception issues (substantially driven by odor) in combination with "more emergent public health concerns (such as the presence of unknown microconstituents that are perceived to be hazardous), as well as the emergence of new regulatory actions such as the Sewage Sludge Incineration (SSI) rule."1


Discussions also revealed, however, that substantial and promising opportunity exists for new and expanded biosolids management options. This opportunity is "largely tied to the repositioning of biosolids as a community resource too valuable to waste," especially in the context of renewable energy needs and the extraction of energy from biosolids production. By changing the public perception of biosolids, it will be possible to increase the demand for and acceptance of biosolids products. Urban sustainability interests, population growth, soil depletion, and technology improvements also offer means of repositioning biosolids management in a positive light and helping to overturn entrenched negative public opinion.


Participants were specifically asked to respond to the question, "What's a Biosolids Manager to Do?" in order to help the workshop organizers define a plan of action for implementing the identified trends and policy drivers. Their responses are described in great detail in the Summary document,1 but the following is an abbreviated list of suggested actions that biosolids managers can use to chart their own future and to keep them positioned in the forefront of the industry:

·        Increase your knowledge base

·        Keep records of all actions and regulatory compliance steps

·        Be attentive to new regulations and technology

·        Take an integrated systems approach to biosolids management

·        Produce a quality product that customers want

·        Address capital needs by establishing regional collaborations with other wastewater treatment plants and by creating public-private partnerships

·        Promote the renewable resource value of biosolids

·        Use alternative analysis methods such as triple bottom line analysis

·        COMMUNICATE with all stakeholders; be proactive in order to build support

·        Support needed research through funding and participation

·        Use social media to connect with regional biosolids groups for information and support

·        Approach capital planning, and operations and management actions with a focus on risk management1


There were also a number of suggestions as to how the NBP and WEF could support the efforts of biosolids managers. Again, these points are described in great detail in the Meeting Summary document, but the highlights include:

·        Develop an "EMS lite" for small systems

·        Expand NBP EMS to incorporate the entire wastewater system by using an overall systems approach to managing biosolids quality

·        Support new staff entrants in the field through scholarships, internships, and outreach

·        Establish a strategic connection across EPA offices that influence biosolids management; the traditional focus is too limiting

·        Make the NBP website a go-to resource for "one-stop" biosolids management information

·        Update the current WEF biosolids position paper

·        Better dissemination of new scientific findings to biosolids managers

·        Present the findings of this workshop to the WEF Board and House of Delegates.1


As you can see from this condensed summary of the workshop findings, the field of residuals management is in a challenging but exciting state of flux. It is evolving from the single minded "beneficial use" attitude of land application to a broader focus that incorporates harvesting and recycling the energy in biosolids, as well as taking into consideration an overall systems approach to biosolids management. Managers today must also be attuned to issues such as public perception, social media communication, changing regulations, and new procedures and applications resulting from more sophisticated research programs. The data gathered at the December workshop is available to all biosolids managers. This information can be an invaluable tool to help guide the field of biosolids management in the future.

Source material for this article was obtained from:

1Meeting Summary of the NBP meeting "Charting the Future of Biosolids" held on December 1 - 2, 2010.
2CDM document prepared for NDP and WEF dated November 23, 2010: "Charting the Future of Biosolids Management: Background Materials for Discussion."

For copies of these source documents, please contact Sam Hadeed at




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