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Biosolids Recycling 101

The Benefits of Using Biosolids in Agricultural Applications

Biosolids are a valuable renewable source of macronutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, essential to healthy plant development. When used in adherence to strict federal and state regulations, biosolids is a safe and economical alternative to traditional chemical fertilizers.

Municipal Biosolids

Direct Agricultural Benefits of Biosolids

Many of the advantages of land application of biosolids are realized directly by the farmer.

Rich Source of Nutrients in Organic Forms

Biosolids are naturally rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, and to some extent, potassium. These nutrients are present in organic forms and, as a result, are less water soluble than the nutrients provided by chemical fertilizers. This allows the nutrients to be more available to plants in a slow-release form, often over several growing seasons, and reduces the potential for nutrient loss through surface water run-off. In addition to these macronutrients, biosolids also contain a certain amount of micronutrients such as iron and zinc, among others, which also contribute to healthy plant development.

Improves Soil Structure

The orgainic matter in biosolids binds soil particles together which can reduce soil erosion potential and improve water holding capacity.

Dramatically Improves Crop Yields

Improved soil structure promotes the development of robust root systems and maximizes nutrient uptake by crops. The slow-release of vital nutrients allows the crop to be adequately nourished throughout its development. As a result, crop production after biosolids application is typically significantly improved. In some cases, farmers have reported seeing crop yields doubled after fertilization with biosolids.

Decreased Cost of Fertilization

The use of biosolids decreases a farmer’s dependency on costly chemical fertilizers that must be re-applied each year. The cost of biosolids applications are typically very significantly less than the cost of traditional fertilizer.

Environmental Benefits of Biosolids

Less Contribution to Nutrient Pollution of Waters

When Nitrogen and Phosphorus from farm fields find their way to bodies of water it can cause excessive growth of algae, producing harmful toxins and degrading water quality. Any type of crop fertilizer containing these nutrients can potentially contribute to this problem. However, the nutrients in biosolids are typically less water soluble than those in chemical fertilizers which means they are less likely to end up in a waterway following field application. Additionally, the organic matter in biosolids can improve soil structure and reduce erosion which can prevent the unwanted movement of nutrients that are bonded to the soil particles.

Conservation of Limited Natural Resources

The phosphorus in chemical fertilizers is obtained by mining phosphate rock. Phosphate rock is a finite natural resource and the mining process has negative environmental impacts. By reusing the phosphorus in biosolids, we are encouraging the natural cycle of this nutrient and reducing the need to mine phosphate rock.

Conservation of Landfill Space

A significant portion of municipal sludge that is not reused as biosolids is disposed of via landfills. This practice not only neglects the value of biosoilds, but consumes vast amounts of limited landfill space. The land application of biosolids conserves landfill capacity for use by other materials that have no residual value.


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