Building Public Support for Biosolids Management Activities

The following is a summary of a paper presented by Diane Garvey at the NJWEA Annual Conference on May 11, 2011 at Bally’s Atlantic City:

Biosolids technology has advanced to the point that there are many ways to process biosolids that are economically feasible and environmentally beneficial.  We know that society as a whole will benefit from biosolids processing and use especially in the context of renewable energy needs, urban sustainability interests, population growth, soil enhancement, and technology improvements.

However, the public does not always agree and often sees the processing and recycling of biosolids as a controversial issue.  Misinformed public perception, rather than technical rationale, should not control the future direction of biosolids management and environmentally sound uses for biosolids.

An opportunity exists to address these concerns, overcome the negative perceptions, and define biosolids as a valuable resource. Despite the beneficial use of biosolids for many years, much of the population is unaware of them, presenting us with a timely opportunity to build a base of support by establishing a favorable relationship between biosolids managers and the public.

To this end, the biosolids manager needs to be seen as trustworthy, honest and open while engaging all stakeholders in a shared vision of the beneficial use of safe, low odor biosolids products.   Information offered about beneficial biosolids products should be unshakable in its integrity.  We must take public concerns seriously, develop coordinated and proactive educational outreach and communications plans, employ creative ways to build positive public support, and reposition biosolids as a community resource too valuable to waste.

Advice to guide the biosolids manager:

  • It’s not about public relations, it’s about public relationships.
  • You’re living in a fish bowl so get your house in order.
  • Get your story in the news.
  • Counteract misinformation on the internet through Search Engine Optimization.
  • Pay attention! Know how various regulatory changes in the area of fertilizer marketing, agriculture, air and water quality standards, land use, zoning, and new technology will affect your program.

About Diane Garvey

Diane Garvey has over 20 years experience as an environmental engineer in the areas of wastewater engineering services and biosolids management. She is proficient in environmental planning, processing, quality control, permitting, marketing, public relations, and recycling. In addition to helping Water Quality Managers comply with State and Federal regulations, Garvey Resources, Inc. offers an array of services including biosolids management planning, permitting assistance, and public outreach and environmental education programs. We are also certified in nutrient and odor management planning.
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