Sewage sludge has a Facebook page! Only they use the PR term for sludge, biosolids, calling their page "Biosolids Buzz." Despite the attractive photo of a woman holding soil (presumably sludge) with a seedling growing in it, sludge is not "Liked" by too many other Facebookers, aside from all of the usual suspects. Kellogg Garden Products, a company that profits by selling sewage sludge as "compost," the U.S. Composting Council, a front group for the sludge industry, the U.S. EPA, which covers for toxic sludge by calling it safe and legal, and the big dog of the sludge industry, the Water Environment Federation, all "Like" this page.
Social Media for Sludge
Facebook is just one of the many social media tools sludge promoters are using to get the word out about sludge. Instead of their usual strategy of selling sludge to gardeners as compost in bags that don't list sludge as an ingredient -- and sometimes even call it "organic" (or "organics") -- some sludge advocates are now trying to make it seem cool. You can like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, and watch it on YouTube. They are using cute slogans like "Is Your #2 Making You #1?" and titles like "Biosolids Boy and the Compost Kid: The Secret of the Super Soccer Field." And they are advertising sewage sludge as "sustainable."
Selling Sludge as "Sustainable"
The effort to sell sludge as "sustainable" in an age when sustainability is the buzzword on everybody's lips has paid off. For example, a Huffington Post piece about the selection of Stockholm, Sweden, as the "Green Capitol of Europe" includes the use of sewage sludge on agricultural land in the city's green credentials. A piece about the Austin, Texas, sewage sludge product, Dillo Dirt, is titled "Going Green." Another dramatic example of this comes from north of the border, in a piece about a sludge compost company being named to a list of the greenest employers in Canada. And in Iowa, Governor Terry Branstad praised wastewater workers who produce sludge that is applied to farmland for their "environmental passion" and "promoting sustainability in our way of living." (Branstad is also an alum of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which the Center for Media & Democracy has been investigating through ALECExposed.org.)
Where's the Dislike Button?
The sludge social media and sustainability campaign makes us want to hit the "Dislike" button -- if only one existed on Facebook! Despite the hyperbolic language about the "ultimate recycling," the use of sewage sludge is more than just the application of treated human fecal matter on farmland and gardens. Whereas the practice of using human waste as fertilizer is an ancient - and sustainable -- one, sewage sludge contains a whole lot more than poop; it contains everything that goes down the drain from households, hospitals, and industry. Test after test reveals that sludge -- even the treated sludge the EPA calls "Class A Biosolids" -- is a toxic stew of everything from dioxins and flame retardants to biological pathogens. Just because applying sludge to farmland gets rid of it in a supposedly cheap way that does not make the practice sustainable -- let alone safe.