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Recycling PR, waste management PR - Deborah Gray PR

Deborah Gray Public Relations - PR articles

Where there’s muck...

Sewage is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a glamorous subject. Even at the most modern dinner parties, it remains taboo as a conversation topic. However, the importance of the stuff cannot be underestimated, however unpleasant.

Sewage is not an old problem. We have devised increasingly inventive ways of cleansing and moving it as far away from us as possible. We’ve progressed from dumping it in rivers to dumping it at sea. We’ve managed to disconnect ourselves from our sewage without having look at, come into contact with, acknowledge, or even say the word... poo.


The fact is, in a world of dwindling space and scarce resources, we need to take greater responsibility, or at the very least greater interest, in what happens to our “business”. Like most things in the world, sewage can be recycled. We can also call it bio-waste, which is a much more acceptable term.

Manure is the acceptable face of bio-waste recycling. The idea of farmers and gardeners happily spreading dung in fields and flowerbeds is one that we find completely natural. Mention human bio-waste, and suddenly people can get very nervous.

In parts of Mongolia, it is standard practice for the nomadic tribes to dry out animal manure from their herds into solid bricks, which they then burn as heating fuel. The size of herd required, and the resulting smell means that this practice is unlikely to catch on in the more fashionable areas of west London. Instead you can show willing by picking up some paper made from elephant dung at the Natural History Museum in Kensington, yes, really.

There are other ways our bio-waste can be put to good use. There are some devoted environmentalists who advocate composting, and anyone considering such a practice should seek out, probably by mail order, a copy of "The Humanure Handbook", by Joseph Jenkins.

Fortunately, much of our bio-waste is already recycled. Out of the million tonnes of sewage sludge produced each year, about 55% is currently used as organic fertiliser in agriculture. This is an impressive average: much of Europe only manages 40%. The wonderfully titled EU Sludge Directive (1986) ensures that bio-waste fertiliser is monitored for levels of potentially harmful pathogens and heavy metals.

To counter any potential public resistance to the practice, DEFRA, the FSA, the National Farmers Union, together with food manufacturers and the Country Land and Business Association, came together to form the Safe Sludge Matrix. This is a voluntary code that continues the work of the EU directive, ensuring that bio-waste remains a safe, viable organic fertiliser.

This is not the sort of environmentalism that attracts many column inches, perhaps for the better. But it is comforting to know while we collect our bottle tops and sort our plastics, large scale, unglamorous but equally effective projects like this go on behind the scenes.

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