It's All About the Product

In wastewater treatment as in any profession, attention to quality makes the difference between market success and failure.

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Last month’s article about biosolids composting in Kelowna, B.C., should remind us all about the importance of tending to quality.

The city has been composting for years, but only in more recent times has it found the secret to making a quality product in a way that’s friendly to the community. In this case, that means a compost that is pleasant to handle, does great things to the soil and the plants that grow there, and is created with an essentially odor-free process.

The city’s compost, called Ogogrow, now has a large and loyal following among landscapers, nurseries and individual gardeners. It brings a substantial price, and there is more demand than supply.

It’s all because organics supervisor Gordon Light and his operations team weren’t willing to stop until they had a process that truly constituted Best Management Practices under the province’s Organic Matter Recycling regulation.

Going to market

Any product of wastewater treatment, be it compost, land-applied liquid or cake biosolids, or secondary-treated or reuse-quality water, starts at a disadvantage because of where it comes from. Quality control has been the key to getting products like biosolids and reclaimed wastewater better established in the public mind.

It took a little time for the public to accept the use of reclaimed water for irrigation on parks, golf courses and lawns. Establishing trust for biosolids has been even tougher because the “yuck factor” is greater and creating a quality product is more challenging. Still, we have come a long way on that front, too.

Part of the solution with biosolids is believing in the product and helping consumers perceive that it has value. Back in the 1980s when I got my first exposure to beneficial use of biosolids, some clean-water agencies were “marketing” their product by essentially telling farmers and rural residents that they were doing a public service by taking it.

Of course, they gave the material away — hardly a ringing endorsement.

All steps necessary

Some communities still give their material away in various forms, as compost for public pickup or as farm fertilizer and soil conditioner. And that’s fine, but it wouldn’t be possible if the products weren’t excellent. People today just won’t accept material that smells bad or looks less than presentable with visible scraps of paper or plastic mixed in. Nor should we expect them to.

It’s the same where wastewater effluent is concerned. The best thing a treatment plant has to sell when it comes to winning public acceptance and admiration is an exceptional-quality end product.

Wastewater operators as a class seem to know this. Many operators I talk to, in fact I would venture to say most of them, treat their permit limits not as ultimate objectives but as minimum standards. If their permit says 30/30 BOD/TSS, they’re not looking to achieve 29.9/29.9. They’re aiming for the lowest levels they can reach with the equipment and budget available.

The right attitude

Kelowna, after it fixed its composting process, immediately began talking it up and marketing the product aggressively, with superb results. That’s a step treatment plants should take with their high-quality effluent. Of course, plants don’t sell their effluent unless they’re producing water for reuse. But even so they should be selling the public on the final product’s quality.

It’s great just to keep a low profile and do a good job and go home at the end of the day walking proud. But for the industry’s sake it’s important to let the community know just how good a job your treatment plant is doing. Whether you’re making a biosolids product for money, or making the case for the value of your facility and team, product quality is essential. And so is marketing that product well.


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