Whole Foods Biosolids Policy – Where to Now?

The natural grocer Whole foods and water and wastewater professionals have common ground but can they have an uncommon dialog?

The biosolids policy of the natural grocer Whole Foods continued to generate some media attention throughout February.  Whole Foods has instructed its suppliers of produce and flowers not to use biosolids (another repetition of the story in this podcast).  As reported in the last NEBRAMail, some of those covering this story have provided good perspectives on the policy, including contacting those involved in managing or using biosolids.  Recent examples of thoughtful coverage include this article in The Packer and this article about Milwaukee's Milorganite in Medill Reports Chicago.

But the media interest in the Whole Foods biosolids story is fading, and, because biosolids are not used much for growing produce and flowers for direct consumption, the impacts on actual biosolids management practices of the new Whole Foods policy may be minimal.  However, the perception of biosolids as a sustainable practice has been harmed.

NEBRA staff and members have tried to engage in further discussions on the topic with Whole Foods, but without success.  Recent Whole Foods statements indicate that they want to move on from this, despite their continued limited understanding of the abundant science and experience behind biosolids recycling.  Whole Foods has apparently bought into the simplistic negative public perception of those steadily opposed to biosolids recycling, based mostly on arguments about the traces of myriad chemicals found in biosolids.  Despite their claims that their standards are based on science and sustainability. they have taken a position without adequate review of the abundant science and without consideration of the importance of biosolids recycling in creating sustainable communities.

(An interesting perspective on the pseudo-science of Whole Foods was provided recently by The Daily Beast story)

Those managing wastewater and biosolids have a lot of common ground with Whole Foods’ broader aspirations: a commitment to the environment, water quality, healthy soils, and sustainable agriculture.  We had hoped that Whole Foods would welcome further exploration of that common ground.  We can imagine that the company might want to educate its customers on the importance of wastewater treatment and the role they play in the water cycle.  Maybe we could work together to encourage improvements in screening of abundantly used chemicals, to ensure environmental impacts – including through use of biosolids on soils – are always considered.   We hope for future discussions.