Home   Google ARCHIVE SEARCH: Date:


Photo by Jack Huynh, Orange Photography

Let's scrap San Francisco bio-solids Road Show

Turn night soil to black gold

By Jordanna Thigpen

February 24, 2006

Recently, the SF PUC has been touring the City with an Antiques Road Show describing the changes to our city's sewer system. The road show is educational and interesting; and the agency is looking for feedback, so if you have any, you know that now is the time to provide it.

Part of the road show describes an imminent problem that the City is facing: in 2007, the ordinance that enables us to ship our bio-solids to Solano County is expiring.

Rather than lobby for renewal, it is time for the PUC to look at new technology for solid waste management, one that can help us turn night soil into black gold.

Anyone else a child of/remember the 80s? Bio-solids are the like the Banana Round of Ms. Pac-Man: supposedly the final outcome of the sewage treatment process. And like the Banana Round, you've got to stay alert and move quickly unless you want to lose. Our current, hopelessly 20th-century solution of shipping bio-solids from densely populated urban areas to Solano, Kern, or (Any Agricultural County) is not going to work in the long term.

Of course after Banana Round, the fruit was random. Remember that pure adrenaline rush the first time you made it past Banana! We will have a more focused approach, but bio-solids are not as final as we have believed.

Locally, bio-solids are already in use as fertilizers for animal feed. Bio-solids are used in Melbourne, Australia as a base for soil mix. Dewatered bio-solids have helped rehabilitate land laid to waste by industrial processing because of chemical reactions they help produce. They are also important as a base for cement mix. With the ongoing construction in China Basin, Mission Bay, and still, SOMA, perhaps it's time to consider a set-aside of local bio-solids for local construction.

There was a recent announcement that dog poop in its raw form would be collected at certain City parks and turned into energy. There is a plan to harvest the methane, as we currently do with human bio-solids. But dog poop is very different than bio-solids.

Across the world, cities must deal with bio-solids. It's not easy. Besides the public relations issues regarding beneficial use, there are obvious environmental problems. Bio-solids are very high in heavy metals such as zinc, mercury, cadmium, and copper, all of which can be poisonous to humans. Various applications create other problems. For example in London and Paris, bio-solids are burned for fuel, but the process creates ash which still needs to be disposed of. It's important to note that modern processes allow for excellent air emission quality, and that the life-cycle costs of incineration are the lowest of any feasible bio-solids management option, according to some studies.

There is another method of disposing of organic waste, which is nascent, and just beginning to gain respect after years of R&D. It is called thermal depolymerization (TDP). First developed by Illinois microbiologist Paul Baskis in the 1980s, and evolved now into TCP by Changing World Technologies (www.changingworldtech.com), the first major plant to use this technology is located in Carthage, Missouri, next to a Butterball turkey factory. The plant uses turkey waste to produce crude oil. Believe it or not, Changing World actually has to pay for the turkey waste. It's legal to use turkey waste as feed for cattle and other animals, so the plant owners could make a profit on their garbage in other industries.

Admittedly, the plant has run into some problems due to NIMBY complaints about odor, although you have to believe that the turkey factory hasn't always channeled the perfume counter through the years. Missouri's Governor Matt Blunt shut the plant down in December 2005 due to citizen complaints.

TCP can convert plastics, human and animal waste, and major chemicals to living energy in an alchemical, beautiful magic. It breaks down poisons and even rogue prions like BSE. For this reason it is touted as the solution to the spread of animal diseases that exist because factory animals are currently subsisting on diseased, rendered animals from other factories. TCP can even remove the heavy metals that other bio-solids management practices can't eliminate. Most importantly, TCP is taking waste and turning it into fuel - and will soon make it impossible for companies like Exxon, with a $36B 2005 profit, to claim with cocksure, breathtaking arrogance, that, "The US will always be dependent on foreign oil."

It is time to bring TCP to San Francisco. Changing World Technologies formed a joint venture with Con-Agra, owners of the Butterball plant, to address the turkey waste problem. Its business plan depends on "partnerships with entities which have waste streams under control." As a municipal entity with a relentless waste stream, we need to find a similar partner who will help us fund construction of a TCP plant. Perhaps Senator Perata's ambitious and necessary infrastructure bond plans can emphasize alternative waste management practices, but we can't wait. We must act now, perhaps in concert with adjoining counties, and even the federal government, to create a TCP fund. Our world cannot wait.

District 6 resident Jordanna Thigpen is an attorney, small business owner and a Commissioner with the City's Small Business Commission. You can usually find her at work and she doesn't get to Ocean Beach often enough. Email Jordanna at jgthigpen@gmail.com.

Click here for Thigpen archive.




The Hunger Site

Cooking Classes
in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires B&B

Calitri in southern Italy

L' Aquila in Abruzzo

Health Insurance Quotes


Bruce Brugmann's


Civic Center

Dan Noyes

Greg Dewar

Griper Blade


Malik Looper






MetroWize Urban Guide

Michael Moore

N Judah Chronicles


Robert Solis

SF Bay Guardian





SFWillie's Blog



Sweet Melissa