Biosolids program helps Nebraska cities reduce waste, save money

November 3, 2015

Lincoln, Neb. —An increase in worldwide population means there are more people on the planet to create waste. This waste can have a huge negative impact on the natural environment so it’s more critical than ever to find opportunities for recycling. Cities in Nebraska are doing just that by partnering with Nebraska Extension to use biosolids, or processed municipal treatment plant solids, to fertilize crops.

Biosolids program helps Nebraska cities reduce waste, save money
Biosolids program helps Nebraska cities reduce waste, save money

The Biosolids Farmland Application Program implemented by Nebraska Extension in Lancaster and Dodge counties is a prime example of recycling waste material into a valuable resource. Biosolids are the solids separated from the water portion in the wastewater treatment plant. Biosolids are high in organic nitrogen, phosphorus and have significant levels of potassium and sulfate, which are essential elements necessary for plant growth.

On-farm research results consistently show that biosolids match or exceed commercial fertilizer in grain production. The value of biosolids, based on nutrient value alone, is over $100,000 annually to participating farmers in Dodge County. With results like that, producers are beginning to seek participation in the program, which minimizes environmental impact since the biosolids are not typically applied to the same field more than once.

“Through this program, Extension is helping rural and urban populations to be good stewards with their available resources,” said Nebraska Extension Educator Nathan Mueller. “Rather than paying to transport biosolids to the landfill, we’re using it to add value to the community by growing better performing crops.”

The city of Fremont generates enough biosolid products to fertilize 400 to 450 acres per year, according to Mueller. Using these biosolids saves Fremont citizens $165,000 annually in wastewater fees.

Despite the economic value provided through the program, there are concerns about whether or not the biosolids are safe to use. Many citizens are relieved to hear this application is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nebraska Extension helps program participants through the permit for land application process mandated by the local policies and EPA. Biosolids must be applied at agronomic rates, based on the nitrogen and phosphorus requirements of the next crops. In addition, municipalities must monitor application rates and field locations. There are also restrictions on application near wells, rivers, streams and other waterways to prevent contamination of surface and ground waters.

For more information on the Biosolids Farmland Application Program, contact Nathan Mueller at 402-727-2775 or nathan.mueller@unl.edu.

Nathan Mueller
Nebraska Extension
402-727-2775
nathan.mueller@unl.edu