On May 19, 2021

Wastewater: foster closed-loop nutrient cycling

Dear Editor,

The Rich Earth Institute applauds Secretary Moore’s April 28 editorial focused on wastewater infrastructure and the pending ARPA funding from Congress, and offers this response. Based in Brattleboro, our organization has been developing innovations in the wastewater sector since 2012, guided by the clear need for effective and affordable wastewater technologies to meet the needs of Vermont’s diverse village centers and other communities.

As a new tide of federal dollars approaches, it is imperative that Vermont residents and state officials consider lower-cost wastewater solutions with the potential to pay for themselves through nutrient recovery and lower infrastructure requirements—and provide a natural fertilizer product.

Rather than capture nutrients for beneficial use in a circular economy, today’s conventional solutions continue to emphasize the expensive and energy-intensive treatment, removal and dispersal of these so-called “waste” products. As we plan this major and transformative infrastructure investment, businesses and organizations offering “resource-oriented sanitation” systems to help build circular economies and foster closed-loop nutrient cycling and climate resilience should have a seat at the table.  

At the end of 2020, with National Science Foundation funding, Rich Earth interviewed over 150 people nationally and abroad to map the landscape of sanitation innovations. These included toilet and wastewater treatment designers, architects, regulators, entrepreneurs, academics and industry leaders. The once-pioneering water-flush toilet and centralized sewer approach is becoming outdated. Let’s make sure this “once in a generation” infrastructure funding supports the adoption of innovative approaches that present and future Vermonters will be proud of.

Ivan Ussach, Abe Noe-Hays and Kimmerly Nace, Rich Earth Institute, LLC, Brattleboro.

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