Public Outreach & Involvement
Those involved in biosolids and residuals management are providing a vital public service that protects the environment and public health. But people can easily ignore this fact when faced with a new proposal, for example, regarding wastewater and sludge, about which they may know little.
Managing wastewater solids and other organic residuals often involves bringing people’s attention to wastes they find distasteful. It may involve transport or use of biosolids or other residuals near their homes or workplaces. It involves real and perceived risks. Done poorly, the communications around biosolids and residuals management programs can lead to uncertainty, unease, negative judgments, and conflict. And such outcomes cannot be entirely overcome by improved engineering design or technical planning.
In addition to excellence in design and engineering, the most effective way to increase the likelihood of a biosolids management program’s success is through proactive public outreach and involvement, at the core of which is effective communication about risks and benefits.
Alternatively, if there is no proactive public outreach and involvement about a biosolids management program, or if outreach fails, then the common alternative method of dealing with public opposition is legal action. Going to court may eventually yield a desired outcome, but it is unlikely to improve relationships with communities. Such relationships are vital to long-term success. And legal action may cost much more in dollars, time, and frustration, and its outcome is by no means certain.
It is imperative that those managing biosolids and other residuals be proactive in communications with the communities in which they operate. The last few decades are littered with recycling programs shut down because of odor complaints and conflicts with neighbors. It is foolish, reckless, and disrespectful to risk public funds and trust by operating programs "under the radar."
There is significant research and understanding regarding public perceptions of biosolids and other residuals and public outreach. NEBRA has been involved in it. Information is readily available. Managers of biosolids and residuals should use it. NEBRA offers training and support.
- NEW! Want a Truly Sustainable Biosolids Recycling Program? Focus on Proactive Communications (WE & T, March 2014) This article presents advice from leading biosolids outreach & communications experts.
Examples of stellar public outreach programs:
The NEBRA office has additional information, references, and referrals.