Milorganite is the trademark of a biosolids fertilizer produced by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. The District captures wastewater from the Milwaukee metropolitan area, including local industries. This water is then treated at the Jones Island Water Reclamation Facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with microbes to digest nutrients that are found in it. Cleaned water is then returned to Lake Michigan. The recycled organic nitrogen fertilizer, which is sold throughout North America, reduces the need for manufactured nutrients. After more than 85 years, it is one of the largest and most continuous examples of such programs.
Milorganite’s history began with Milwaukee’s goal to clean up its rivers and Lake Michigan. Rather than land filling sludge, the byproduct was used in a pioneering effort to make, distribute and sell fertilizer. "Its production is among the largest recycling programs in the world."
The Jones Island Plant was among the first sewage treatment plants in the United States to succeed in using the activated sludge treatment process. "It was the first treatment facility to economically dispose of the recovered sludge by producing an organic fertilizer." In the early 1980s the plant needed extensive reworking, "this does not detract from its historic significance as a pioneering facility in the field of pollution control technology." "The world’s first large scale wastewater treatment plant was constructed on Jones Island, near the shore of Lake Michigan." It had the largest capacity of any plant in the world when constructed. The 1925 plant has been designated as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The name Milorganite is a concatenation of the phrase Milwaukee Organic Nitrogen, and was the result of a 1925 naming contest held in National Fertilizer Magazine. Raising taxes for public health was relatively controversial in the early 1900s. In 1911, reform minded socialists were elected on a platform calling for construction of a wastewater treatment plant to protect against water borne pathogens. Experiments showed that heat dried activated sludge pellets "compared favorably with standard organic materials such as dried blood, tankage, fish scap, and cottonseed meal." Sales to golf courses, turf farms and flower growers began in 1926. Milorganite was popularized during the 1930s and 1940s before inorganic urea became available to homeowners after WWII. With the help of researchers in the College of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin, the use of waste solids (i.e., activated sludge) as a source of fertilizer was first developed in the early 20th century.
Since its development in 1926 as the first pelletized fertilizer in the United States, Milorganite has sold over 9,000,000,000 pounds (4.1×109 kg) of recycled waste. As of 2012, the plant produced about 45,000 tons from heat dried microbes per year. In combining concerns for the environment and social justice, while successfully navigating the fluctuations and vagaries of the changing waste stream[A] to deliver an important product through recycling, Milorganite has been at the forefront of the industry, even as it balances conflicting goals.
As the organization itself notes:
"Headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Milorganite products are manufactured and marketed by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), a regional government agency whose primary focus is providing water reclamation and flood management services for about 1.1 million customers in 28 communities in the Greater Milwaukee Area. Since 1926 MMSD has been a world leader in supplying Organic Nitrogen fertilizers for professional and residential use. While revenue generated through the sale of Milorganite products does not make up for the entire cost to produce and market, our belief in beneficial reuse and recycling makes producing our value added products the clear choice."
The sale of product does not entirely generate sufficient funds to cover the costs of manufacture, but the organization suggests the environmental benefits are a legitimate offsetting consideration.
Heat dried biosolids contain slow release organic nitrogen, largely water insoluble phosphorus bound with iron and aluminum and high organic matter. Milorganite releases 85% of its nitrogen slowly as turf grows, generating balanced growth. Milorganite’s 4% Iron enhances turf's color throughout the 8-10 week application period.
Milorganite contains virtually no salts, so it never burns plants – even in the hottest temperatures and driest conditions. It may be applied without water, and is moisture activated at a later time. Each application feeds for 8–10 weeks, resulting in fewer applications.
Milorganite can be used without restriction on gardens intended for human consumption under USEPA rules. There are concerns about contaminants, including waste pharmaceuticals, drug pollution, metals, etc. To alleviate those concerns, Milorganite is tested regularly, more often than is required by governmental regulations. According to the Material safety data sheet it is "registered for sale in all 50 states and meets all federal and state requirements."
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certifies milorganite as a biobased product because it is derived from 85% renewable materials. Milorganite is not certified for use on U.S.D.A. organic farms.
University research confirms anecdotal evidence that applying Milorganite on lawns and near plants deters deer due to its odor. However, the manufacturer cannot market Milorganite as a deer repellent because it is not registered as a "pesticide.[B] The size of the expenditure and the lack of a guaranteed return on investment and its timing was deemed to make the venture not worth it. Therefore, repelling hungry deer from Hostas remains an "off-label" use. Milorganite is tested daily for the presence of heavy metals and pathogens. Milorganite complies with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) "Exceptional Quality" criteria, which establishes the strictest concentration limits in the fertilizer industry for heavy metals, allowing Milorganite to be used on food crops. These limits are based upon extensive risk analysis for a variety of pathways.
- For example, the loss of much of the Malting and Brewing industry (e.g., Schlitz Brewing Company and Pabst Brewing Company) that was located in Milwaukee affected both the quality and the quantity of raw material available.
- The projected cost of testing to satisfy the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency was estimated to be between $1 and $2 million, when the entire advertising and public contact budget for the organization is only $2 to $3 million per year. Studies paid for by the water district at the University of Georgia and Cornell showed it to be effective in deterring deer.
- Alvord, John W.; Whipple, George C.; Eddy, Harrison P. (April 25, 1911). A Report to the Common Council upon the Disposal of the Sewage and the Protection of the Water Supply of the City of Milwaukee. Unpublished. Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.
- Eddy, Harrison (April 17, 1924). "Sewerage and sewage disposal". Engineering News-Record 92 (16). pp. 693–695.
- Gurda, John (May 1978). "Change at the River Mouth: Ethnic. Succession on Milwaukee's Jones Island, 1700 to 1922. (Unpublished master’s thesis)". Milwaukee, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.
- Horvath, R. Dennis (May 1964). "The Sewage Disposal Controversy: A Study in Milwaukee Area Politics. (Unpublished master’s thesis) publisher=University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee". Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
- Leary, Raymond D.; Peot, Werner A. (1973). "Development of a Wastewater Treatment System for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District".
- National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Jones Island Wastewater Treatment Plant.
- "About us". Milorganite/Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. Retrieved March 28, 2014.
- "History of Milorganite". Milorganite/Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
- Tanzilo, Bobby (28 September 2012). "Urban spelunking: Brewing up Milorganite". RSS Feed/OnMilwaukee.com. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
- "Milorganite Reaches 9 Billion Pounds with 85 Years of Recycling" (Press release). Milwaukee, Wisconsin: PRWEB. June 2, 2012. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
- Merritt, Raymond H. (1982). Historical Report Photographs, Written Historical and Descriptive Data (PDF). Historic American Engineering Record (National Park Service). Retrieved April 1, 2014.
- "Environmental Draft Impact Statement: Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District; Water Pollution Abatement Program, No. E1S801072DB". Environmental Protection Agency. November 1980. p. V-100. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
- Stephens, Odin L.; Mengak, Michael T.; Osborn, David; Miller, Karl V. (March 2005). "Using Milorganite to temporarily repel white-tailed deer from food plots" (PDF). Wildlife Management Series (2). University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
- Freese, Simon W., P.E.; Sizemore, Deborah Lightfoot. A Century in the Works: 100 Years of Progress in Civil and Environmental Engineering; Freese and Nichols Consulting Engineers 1894-1994 (PDF). p. 44. Retrieved April 2, 2014.
- American Society of Civil Engineers (August 13, 1974). "Regarding designation of the Jones Island plant as a national engineering landmark" (Press release).
- Foote, Stephanie, Ed.; Mazzolini, Elizabeth; Schneider, Daniel (Chapter 7) (2012). "7, "Purification or Profit: Milwaukee and the Contradiction of Sludge". Histories of the Dustheap: Waste, Material Cultures, Social Justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. pp. 171–197. ISBN 0-262-01799-7. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
- Mortimer, Clifford (May 1981). "The Lake Michigan Pollution Case: A Review and Commentary on the Limnological and Other Issues". Publications of the Great Lakes Center for Research (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Center for Great Lakes Studies, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee): 2–3. Retrieved March 29, 2014..
- Eleventh Annual Report of the Sewerage Commission of the City of Milwaukee for 1924, pp. 32–42.
- See, North American's Most Widely Known, Respected, and Beloved Turfgrass Agronomist, The O.J. Noer Research Foundation, Inc., Michigan State U. Libraries, Turfgrass Information Center, www.lib.msu.edu/tgif.
- Miller, Matt; O'Connor, George A. (2009). "Longer-term Phytoavailability of Biosolids-Phosphorus". Agronomy Journal (101): 889–896. or puri.fcla.edu/fcia/etd/UFE0022710
- Harrison, Ellen Z. Director (2006). "Fact Sheet 2006: Home Garden Use of Milorganite" (PDF). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Waste Management Institute. Retrieved March 28, 2014.
- "Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)". Milorganite. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
- Behm, Don (January 18, 2009). "EPA derails plans to market Milorganite as deer repellent". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Retrieved March 29, 2014.
- "Newsletter". National Biosolids Partnership. January 22, 2009. Retrieved March 28, 2014.
- Standards for the Use and Disposal of Sewage Sludge
- Milorganite Webpage
- History of Milorganite
- Washington State Department of Agriculture Fertilizer and Pesticide Database — "M"
- USDA Bio-Preferred Program
- "Milorganite informational video" (video). Milorganite. March 15, 2012. Retrieved March 29, 2014.