If you want to avoid having conversations about your work, I highly recommend telling people that you’re writing a three-part series about sewage sludge. It tends to shut them up quick. Thankfully, though, my personal sludge hell is reaching an end: The series was just published on Grist.
Part one explains current uses of sewage sludge, and the rebranding effort it took to get there:
“The renaming contest [for sludge] received over 250 entries, many of which suggested that even water quality professionals still enjoy a good poop joke. Submissions included “bioslurp,” “black gold,” “sca-doo,” “hu-doo,” “geoslime,” and “the end product”; one person proposed rebranding sludge as “R.O.S.E.” (“Recycling Of Solids Environmentally”). Critics asked whether a rose by any other name would still smell as bad, and in 1991 WEF settled on “biosolids,” a term that Sheldon Rampton, co-author of Toxic Sludge Is Good For You, suggests “must have been chosen precisely because it evokes absolutely nothing in the minds of people who hear it.”
Part two is about turning poop into gold — or, more specifically, figuring out ways to recycle it into a marketable commodity. (Though, actually, there’s a sewage treatment plant in Japan that is literally mining gold out of crap — I kid you not.)
And part three is about shitting in a bucket. Or, more precisely, composting toilets.
The research for this series was provided by a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Reporting.