Over the past twenty years, Sagniaw, Michigan has been experimenting with using human waste as fertilizer. Since 1989, Saginaw has been converting human waste into farm fertilizer. Following strict Department of Environmental Quality rules and regulations, Saginaw has contracted out to companies who remove harmful pathogens, bacteria, and viruses from human waste. The processed fertilizer is then distributed to willing farmers across the Great Lakes Region.
The use of biosolids, as they are called, has significant fiscal benefits. The city of Saginaw spends over $500,000 annually to hire trucking companies to haul biosolids across the state and across the Midwest, money that is helpful to companies feeling the pinch of the ongoing U.S. recession. In addition, the state spends several hundred thousand dollars to purchase the necessary chemical to treat biosolids and render them safe for agricultural use. In addition to stimulating local businesses, Saginaw distributes biosolids for free, allowing some farmers to save money on fertilizer costs.
Biosolids, however, come with some difficulties. The transformation of this free industry into a for-profit venture would be difficult, if not impossible, Saginaw officials say. The needed machinery to dewater the initial sludge is costly, which makes commercial applications of biosolids unlikely.
In addition, there is a stigma attached to using human waste as agricultural fertilizer. Many residents complain when their neighbors use biosoldis, citing unpleasant odors. The idea itself is enough to dissuade many farmers, even though the price is right. Overall, only one percent of crops in the U.S. are grown using biosolid fertilizer.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer