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


This article is part of the Food Rights Network, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. Find out more here.

Loop is the professionally "branded" sewage sludge product made by the the King County Wastewater Treatment Division (KCWTD) from the human excrement and industrial waste of the Seattle, Washington metropolitan area -- known by the industry euphemism "biosolids." Its slick, professionally designed logo and trucks sporting colorful new decals (which transport 310 wet tons a day of sewage sludge from the wastewater treatment plant to be spread on farm- and forestland)[1] bely the chemical cocktail of contaminants that municipal sewage sludge may contain. Hundreds of communities across the U.S. sell toxic sludge products that are typically renamed biosolids and sold or given away as "fertilizer" or "compost" (and often even labeled or marketed as "natural" or "organic").

Loop trucks are "decked out with scenes of flowers in bloom, Washington forests, or wheat fields," according to BioCycle Magazine, the official publication of the sewage sludge industry front group the U.S. Composting Council.[1] * But inside is Class B Biosolids, which is allowed to have detectable pathogens and which has been known to sicken cattle fed forage crops grown in soil "fertilized" with this "Class B" sludge.[2] 80 percent of the Loop product is spread on agricultural cropland owned by Boulder Park, Inc. and Natural Selections Farms; 15 percent is spread on commercial forestland managed by Hancock Natural Resource Group and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources; and the remaining five percent is mixed with sawdust and sold as the Class A Biosolids product GroCo.[1]

Branding & Controversy

Kate Kurtz, Biosolids Project Manager at KCWTD, told BioCycle Magazine, "Creating a brand helps us to get in front of the message by communicating the truth about our product in a consistent way."[1] But as defined by public affairs specialist Danielle Blumenthal in Brand Channel, branding is "to tell a very partial, even propagandistic, truth. Really, branding is pure selling, aimed at owning a single idea in the audience’s mind. No matter how they are written up in The Wall Street Journal or Fortune, the brands of Nike, Disney, Starbucks, and Coca-Cola have little to do with the real world inside their organizations, and much to do with the image they represent to the public."[3]

The Loop branding process "included a new name, messages, website, brochures and an internal training campaign to educate employees on how to communicate the new brand in a consistent way. . . . The total process took about a year from inception of the idea to the first unveiling of the Loop brand at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in February 2012. During this time, the county worked with consultants from Kite Brand Studio (Kite) and Somelab Design, who guided King Conty [sic] with some outside perspectives. Kite provided the research and brand strategy services; Somelab Design developed the logo and visual identity of the brand."[1]

As part of this brand unveiling, KCWTD issued a press release featuring a quote from the founder of Seattle-based urban farming collective Alleycat Acres: "'As an urban farming collective, it only makes sense that we use an urban-derived compost. We know that using Loop not only helps us grow great crops, it's also the right thing to do,' said Sean Conroe, founder of Seattle-based urban farming collective Alleycat Acres, which uses GroCo compost made with Loop to fertilize and amend their city farm sites."[4] Several things were not noted in the press release: 1) KCWTD's Kurtz herself was a co-founder of Alleycat Acres;[5] 2) just the day before the press release was issued, Seattle cancer patient and naturopath, Dr. Molly Linton, and University of Washington Researcher John Kissel raised concerns about pharmaceutical residues such as the drugs in her chemo therapy making their way into sewer systems on Seattle's local King 5 News;[6] and 3) a few days before that, a new study out of Colorado State University was released that found steroid hormones in the runoff coming from agricultural test plots smeared with sewage sludge.[7]

Involved in the branding work done by the brand consulting and design firms was the creation of "marketing materials, including brochures, the website, and swag like hats, pens[,] and sticky notes." And as for the name, Loop? "It certainly isn’t lost on anyone that Loop rhymes with poop,” Kurtz told BioCycle.[1]

Articles and Resources

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(* The BioCycle Magazine article referenced was written by Katrina Mendey, a master's student working with the University of Washington's Dr. Sally Brown,[1] a strong advocate for growing food in sewage sludge. Her promotional work has included feeding the public food grown in sewage sludge at a luncheon "held at Seattle's South Treatment Plant featuring food grown using Seattle's own (sewage sludge) compost product GroCo; Marketing biosolids products ... for the retail home gardener; [writing] papers on a variety of general interest topics about biosolids and land application," and more.[8] A March 2011 BioCycle column by Dr. Brown attacked as "ecoterrorists" the Organic Consumers Association and others who led the successful protest that on March 4, 2010 stopped the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission from giving away sewage sludge as “organic biosolids compost” for home and school gardens.[9] KCWTD's Kurtz was also one of Dr. Brown's master's students.[10])


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Katrina Mendrey, Branding Biosolids Closes The "Loop" (sub. req'd.), BioCycle Magazine, June 2013, Vol. 54, No. 6, p. 21.
  2. Andy McElmurray, Testimony Before U.S. Congress, archived by Sludge News, accessed August 3, 2010.
  3. Danielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., The true role of public relations in branding, Brand Channel, accessed June 2013.
  4. Rebekah Wilce, Sewage Sludge in the News, Food Rights Network, February 9, 2012.
  5. cheathb, Harvest luncheon puts the “treat” in wastewater treatment, King County News Blog, September 10, 2010.
  6. Gary Chittim, patient raises environmental concerns over chemo drugs, King 5 News, February 7, 2012.
  7. Yun-Ya Yang, James L. Gray, Edward T. Furlong, Jessica G. Davis, Rhiannon C. ReVello, and Thomas Borch, Steroid Hormone Runoff from Agricultural Test Plots Applied with Municipal Biosolids, Environmental Science Technology (46:5), January 30, 2012, pp. 2746–2754.
  8. Dr. Sally Brown, Outreach, academic website, accessed March 21, 2011.
  9. Sally Brown, Climate Change Connections: Compost Security, BioCycle Magazine, March 2011.
  10. Karen Dale, Feed the Soil, Feed the Kids, Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber "Garden On, Vashon blog, October 22, 2010.
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