Utility Branding Network

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WARNING! Sewage sludge is toxic. Food should not be grown in "biosolids." Join the Food Rights Network.

Utility Branding Network (UBN) is an entity that helps utility companies with PR and efforts to "brand" their activities. UBN helps sewage treatment plants with the promotion of their activities, and it helps them promote using sewage sludge to grow food.

Background

UBN is located in Fountain Valley, California, and it was established in 2007. According to its website, its objective is "to help water and wastewater agencies better understand branding principles and to help them build a strong, positive brand that clearly communicates the value they provide to their communities."[1] It is run by the National Water Research Institute (NRWI). NRWI's affiliated municipal and regional agencies include the Inland Empire Utility Agency, Irvine Ranch Water District, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Orange County Sanitation District, Orange County Water District, and West Basin Municipal Water District. NWRI's dues are $50,000 a year, as of 2011, and these fund NWRI's "research program and related activities." NWRI funds research on waste and water quality and studies to promote the sewage sludge industry.[2] NWRI also was a sponsor[3] of the 1993 EPA and National Academy of Sciences review of the new "Part 503" regulations made in 1992 that used the term "biosolids" for the first time, and reclassified sludge, which was previously designated as hazardous waste, as "Class A" fertilizer.

Controversies

Examples of UBN sewage sludge promotion

UBN has published pro-sludge "studies" promoting what the industry calls by the PR terms "biosolids" and "biosolids compost," which are derived from toxic sludge. As noted below, sludge promoters like UBN and its affiliated agencies typically do not push for consumer awareness that the products they are promoting is derived from sewage sludge.

One of UBN's 2009 publications on a product called "SoilPro Products Premium Compost" touted the Inland Empire Regional Composting Authority's success at creating the so-called "Inland Empire Regional Composting Facility" (IERCF). IERCF is located in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and currently is the nation's largest indoor "composting" facility. The sewage sludge-derived SoilPro product is used in some Kellogg Garden Products, including Amend.

UBN's 2009 publication about SoilPro revealed some of the tactics these facilities use to market the "biosolids compost" as a so-called "value-added product," stating:

"MARKETING TACTICS – IERCA employs a variety of sales and marketing tactics to land customers and maintain high pricing, including the following:

• IERCA currently sells to about 75 customers, mostly landscapers and commercial landscape supply houses.

• These customers act like distributors. IERCA does not sell to individual customers who want to fill up their trucks. These customers are referred to IERCA’s commercial partners.

• Sometimes partners blend the SoilPro product with dirt to create topsoil products.

• Due to the strong partnership with commercial distributors, IERCA is not currently pushing to increase end-user awareness with the SoilPro brand."

As UBN noted, IERCA has developed purchasing agreements with many of the cities that promote the dumping of sewage sludge on land under the euphemism "biosolids." These agreements, according to the NWRI report on IERCA, allegedly constitute less than 10 percent of the business. Recent IERCA board meeting minutes, IERCA expenditures and contracts with corporations and municipalities, including the County Sanitation District of Los Angeles County (CSDLAC) can be viewed here: PDFS.

IERCA's marketing plan does not include participating in giving away the sewage sludge-derived products--unlike some entities as with the controversy in San Francisco in 2010--unless it is part of a special event, like what the industry has dubbed "Compost Awareness Week." This PR device attempts to co-opt the word "compost," which is the rich material prized by organic gardeners, and apply it to sewage sludge material which is not organic and which includes heavy metals and other contaminants from industrial waste. The IERCA's main objective is to make money off of selling sewage sludge disguised as "biosolids compost."

IERCA owns a storage facility next door to the equipment that heats and dries the sewage sludge "to avoid selling product for lower prices during temporary decreases in demand."[citation needed]

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