The disposal of sludge is the immediate problem with which we are faced. Sewers, and the treatment of sewage that must unceasingly produce sludge are the deep problem. Using water as a transportation medium for waste materials is the fundamental mistake that gave rise to so destructive and unfixable a sequence of mistaken technologies: sewers leading to vast water pollution; vast water pollution leading to sewage treatment; sewage treatment leading to the production of an unusable mix of all the pollutants that treatment could remove -- sludge, the climax inherent in sewers and the water carriage of wastes. The spending of resources -- time, energy, materials, money—on upgrading the level of wastewater treatment, on the construction of sewerage, or on efforts to “clean up” sludge, can be no more than a waste of all those resources. The time and energy and money should be spent instead on developing systems that do not cause the problems caused by sewers.
Central collection and “treatment” of sewage can never solve the problem of water pollution. It will only create ever more complex pollution problems. Sludge, the product of the latest mistaken technology in a long sequence of mistaken technologies, will, if permitted to be passed off as a “fertilizer,” inevitably have disastrous effects both on the agricultural soils on which it is disposed and on the boundless ecosystems connected to those soils. Biologically based on-site pollution-prevention and recycling technologies are available now. Funds now allocated for the extension of sewer lines should instead be saved for implementation of systematic source reduction, source separation, and low entropy resource recovery technologies. These should become a federally funded choice for the communities of this nation. To implement such a sewer avoidance program will require the addition of an amendment to the reauthorization bill of the Clean Water Act. We must end the land spreading of sewage sludge now and begin the work of turning the Clean Water Act into a pollution prevention act.