One County In Washington State Is Using Human Waste To Fight Climate Change

While the problem of climate change and global warming continues to wreak havoc around the world, new ways of thinking and possible solutions to the issue have come to the fore, suggesting that human ingenuity may well wind up helping us better deal with the issue.

One such solution can be seen in King County, Washington, where human waste is being used as an alternative to commercial fertilizers, many of which are detrimental to the environment, according to EcoWatch:

“In King County, treated human waste, also known as biosolids, plays an important part in the county’s efforts to combat global warming. “‘Every year we provide the equivalent of taking about 8,000 cars off the road,’ said Cat Gowan, a biosolids project manager in the county’s wastewater treatment division.”

Not only does using biosolids help decrease the need for other fertilizers, it also provides an Earth-friendly route of reusing human waste products, which are normally sent to a wastewater treatment plant and then wind up having to be released back into the environment:

“After human waste gets flushed out of sight, it’s routed to a wastewater treatment plant (or, in many rural areas, to a septic tank). At the publicly owned treatment plants, it’s put through a series of mechanical, biological and/or chemical processes that separate water from the solid matter suspended within. The water then is released back into the environment. The solids left behind can be dealt with in one of three ways: incineration, burial in a landfill, or application on the land, typically in the form of agricultural fertilizer.

“The first two options are extremely expensive in many parts of the country. They also have a number of drawbacks from a climate perspective: landfilled solids release methane, while incineration releases another powerful greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. Land application, however, tends to be less of a burden on public finances, and has a number of mitigation and adaptation benefits.”

The reason biosolids make for better fertilizer is simple, according to Andy Bary, a soil scientist at Washington State University:

“When you’re using biosolids, you’re not just putting down nitrogen, which is pretty typical. You get a broad range of nutrients, the full meal deal – you’re getting nitrogen, you get phosphorus, you get sulfur, you get a whole raft of micronutrients.”

And then there’s the fact that biosolids help mitigate some of the harmful effects of climate change.

Since producing and applying chemical fertilizers releases carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, anything that can take the place of such elements is a win for the environment.

Biosolids also serve another important purpose: they help sequester carbon in the soil,  and that is something that’s seen as an incredibly promising way of reducing greenhouse gas levels.

Sadly, however, biosolids are currently used on only about 1 percent of agricultural lands in the United States. The reason, according to Ned Beecher, a longtime biosolids advocate at the North East Biosolids & Residuals Association, is a lack of raw material:

“Nonetheless, he estimates that if all solids produced in U.S. wastewater treatment plants were applied to land rather than burned or sent to landfills, approximately 7 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions would be prevented each year.”

Education is also an important part of assuring the public that biosolids are beneficial for everyone, Ashley Mihle, a King County biosolids project manager, notes:

“People are not as against it as you’d think once you explain to them how it’s made. It’s a natural process with microorganisms. It produces this thing that’s so great for the soil and helps your plants grow. And if they use it, then they’re sold forever.”

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Andrew Bradford
 

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