What we know changes how we view things. Remember the last time you were reading something you picked up from one of your social media outlets, and at the end sat in silent thought?
Maybe it has come from a conversation with a longtime friend, a family member, or a complete stranger. Many things we have known as fact, even in the scientific world, have been proven wrong in our lifetime.
These small experiences change our perspectives and how we live.
One change in fact altered my planetary mnemonic device from “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” to “Mom Visits Every Monday, Just Stays Until Noon.” Recently we saw reports on the existence of water on Mars. Does this change everything?
This change in perspective strikes me in the wastewater industry. Throughout human existence our understanding of sewage has evolved. Are we willing to change our perspective?
I recently finished a fantastic story where fact around sewage sludge changed opinions and history. The Ghost Map tells the intriguing story of the cholera epidemic that swept through London in 1854. From that outbreak, Scientist John Snow made the controversial argument that cholera traveled through water rather than air. Snow was correct; those findings influenced public health and lead to further construction of improved sanitation facilities and took some mystery away from cholera as a disease.
Before Snow’s discovery there was real fear spreading through London. Cholera was an impartial killer of young, old, healthy, wealthy. I share this story as in juxtaposition to our current view of sewage. Modern day, treated sewage sludge now has a growing place in the global market.
Sewage sludge treatment started as a way to protect ourselves and cities from disease caused by raw sewage. Wastewater facilities were solving a problem of sewage sludge. Now, wastewater facilities are taking on the role of resource recovery facilities.
Two recently published reports from Mordor Intelligence, a market research and consulting firm, say that and more. The biosolids market is growing! The reports focus on the North America Biosolids Market as well as the Global Biosolids Market. The market studies state the condition of biosolids use in fertilizer, forestry, land reclamation, landscaping and energy recovery, among others. They identify drivers and challenges as well as opportunities.
In outstanding treatment plants around the world, almost all the water received is being recycled and returning to the environment. New technologies allow us to extract the same resources from sewage that we hear about in the news being finite and incessantly depleted.
It doesn’t take long to find out the present and future importance of the element P -- phosphorus. The Resource Circle has touched on the values of nitrogen and phosphorus in biosolids in previous posts ”Let’s Do Biosolids Farming” and “Mining Biosolids: A Case for Extracting Phosphorus”.
We have witnessed in our industry an explosive interest in the energy connection. We extract energy from biosolids through various technologies, notably anaerobic digestion, but others both old (incineration, a/k/a “thermal oxidation”) and new (gasification and pyrolysis), to power our plants and to put in the grid for our communities. And perhaps of even greater monetary value, we can take that same biogenic energy source and yield “no carbon” (meaning no fossil carbon) liquid fuels for vehicles.
Research and technology has shaped how we see the world. Viewing sewage as a material we must simply dispose of and make “go away” should be left behind with the belief that there are only 5 kingdoms of life exist and that the diamond is the hardest substance.
But we need to accelerate the scholarship and inventiveness that drives this new world view of sewage. Can we garner financial support for investing in wastewater resource recovery facilities? The payoff is that we will be helping communities provide their own energy and plant nutrients. We will be closing the resource circle.