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Product typeBiosolids fertilizer
OwnerMilwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
Introduced1926 (1926)
MarketsUnited States
Registered as a trademark inU.S. Trademark 76,536,671
Milorganite building

Milorganite is a brand of biosolids fertilizer produced by treating sewage sludge by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.[1] The term is a portmanteau of the term Milwaukee Organic Nitrogen. The sewer system of the District collects municipal wastewater from the Milwaukee metropolitan area. After settling, wastewater is treated with microbes to break down organic matter at the Jones Island Water Reclamation Facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The byproduct sewage sludge is produced. This is heat-dried with hot air in the range of 900–1,200 °F (482–649 °C), which heats the sewage sludge to at least 176 °F (80 °C) to kill pathogens. The material is then pelletized and marketed throughout the United States under the name Milorganite. The result is recycling of the nitrogen and phosphorus from the waste-stream as fertilizer. The treated wastewater is discharged to Lake Michigan.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District has registered Milorganite as a trademark.[2]


"Milorganite" is a portmanteau of the term Milwaukee Organic Nitrogen. It was the winning entry in a 1925 naming contest for a biosolids-based fertilizer held in National Fertilizer Magazine. Its history began with Milwaukee's goal to clean up its rivers and Lake Michigan.[3][4] Rather than land filling solids left over from wastewater treatment, the sludge was used in a pioneering effort to make, distribute and sell fertilizer.[5]

As of May 2019, 9.9 billion pounds (4.5 megatonnes) of waste have been diverted away from landfills.[6] The resulting production is among the largest recycling programs in the world.[7][8]

Milorganite's roots began in 1911, when local socialist politicians were elected on a platform calling for construction of a wastewater treatment plant to protect against water borne pathogens.[3][9] As raising taxes for public health was relatively controversial in the early 1900s,[citation needed] producing an organic fertilizer as a means of partially offsetting its operating cost was proposed. With the help of researchers in the College of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin, the use of waste solids in the form of activated sludge as a source of fertilizer had been developed in the early 20th century.[10] Experiments showed that heat-dried activated sludge pellets "compared favorably with standard organic materials such as dried blood, tankage, fish scrap, and cottonseed meal".[11]

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District's Jones Island Plant had the largest wastewater treatment capacity of any in the world when constructed in 1925.[12] It was the first plant in the United States to succeed in using the activated sludge treatment process to produce fertilizer.[8][13][14] The Plant has been designated as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.[13][15][16]

In 1926, Milorganite made its debut as the first pelletized fertilizer in the United States,[7] with sales directed at golf courses,[4] turf farms, and flower growers.[17] The brand was popularized during the 1930s and 1940s before inorganic urea became available to homeowners after WWII.[citation needed]

Oyvind Juul (O.J.) Noer helped establish the turfgrass industry, and "was instrumental in the success of Milorganite". While promoting Milorganite, his influence got him designated as “Mr. Turf” by the Golf CourseSuperintendents Association of America. He was an important lecturer and authored proponent of turfgrass and fertilizer, including a series of articles titled The ABC of Turf Culture — later published as one of the earliest comprehensive books on the subject of turf maintenance. Noer achieved this stature from his willingness to share his extensive knowledge of turfgrass. While working for Milorganite, he visited more than 80 percent of U.S. golf courses, to aid greenskeepers diagnose and cure "turf problems based on research-based knowledge".[18] In 1985, he was inducted into the Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame.[19]

Since its inception, over four million metric tons of Milorganite have been sold.[5] As of 2018, the plant produces in the range of 45,000–49,000 short tons (41,000–44,000 tonnes) of Milorganite per year, which is roughly 2.4 million bags.[7] The sale of product does not generate sufficient funds to cover the costs of manufacture, but the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District states that the environmental benefits are a legitimate offsetting consideration:[5][1]

In addition to the conflicting financial and environmental goals, it has to cope with fluctuations and vagaries of a changing waste stream. For example, there has been a substantial impact upon both the quality and the quantity of raw material available as a result of Milwaukee losing much of its malting and brewing industry through the departure of once-giant local concerns Schlitz Brewing Company and Pabst Brewing Company.[3] Milorganite has been at the forefront of the sewage sludge recycling industry in the U.S.[3][specify] Changes in the economy and the resultant sewage to be treated have had an impact on Milorganite production.[4]

The process is the end point of the regional sewerage system, which includes "three thousand miles of household laterals and another 3,000 miles of sanitary sewers" (5,000 km of laterals and 5,000 km of sewers). Also included is the 28.5 miles (45.9 km) "deep tunnel project", which provides 521 million U.S. gallons (1.97 billion liters; 1.97 million cubic meters; 434 million imperial gallons) of overflow storage system. Two plants, one on Jones Island and the other in Oak Creek, process sewage using bacteria. Methane is recaptured and used to minimize energy costs.[20]


Heat-dried biosolids contain slow release organic nitrogen and largely water-insoluble phosphorus bound with iron and aluminum and high organic matter.[21]

Milorganite can be used without restriction on gardens growing food crops intended for human consumption under United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules.[22][23] The product is tested daily for the presence of heavy metals and weekly for waterborne pathogens. It complies with the 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.[24] Milorganite has been tested for the presence of contaminants such as waste pharmaceuticals and other forms of drug pollution.[25]

According to its material safety data sheet Milorganite is "registered for sale in all 50 states and meets all federal and state requirements."[22][26] The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certifies it as biobased because it is derived from 85% renewable materials.[1] It is not, however, certified for use on USDA organic farms.[25]

Suggestions that Milorganite deters deer have been substantiated, but the reputed costs[A] of having it certified as a repellent are greater than its potential return.[14][25][27][28] The Environmental Protection Agency denied the application to permit its use as a deer repellent because of a lack of supporting studies showing its environmental impact.[4]

"Milorganite Weed and Feed", a combination of Milorganite with 2,4-D, in a partnership with Parker Fertilizer, was considered in 1971. Seeking to associate itself with the "ecology kick", Milorganite's marketing staff considered the implications of "Milorganite-cide blends". Critics said that the invention of such a product was a repudiation of the sewage district's history. The concept was eventually rejected, and was never marketed to the public.[4] Claims that Milorganite itself was a "natural, organic and/or safe" product were identified as a concern in 1992, when the Federal Trade Commission began an investigation saying the claim was deceptive. By 2000, the United States Department of Agriculture banned the application of all biosolids to any crops bearing the label "organic".[4]

Environmental concerns[edit]

The EPA has shown that biosolids can contain measurable levels of synthetic organic compounds, radionuclides and heavy metals.[29][30][31] USEPA has set numeric limits for arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, selenium, and zinc.[32]

The presence of heavy metals is a source of concern. The facility reports that they have been substantially reduced over the years.[33] Milorganite contains metals at levels found safe by EPA when Milorganite is used as directed.[34]

The EPA has not regulated levels of environmentally toxic manmade dioxins.[32] Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a type of "persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic" (PBT) contaminant, were detected in biosolids in 2001.[35] PCBS are occasionally detected despite production being banned since the 1970s. In 2007, unusually high levels of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were detected in Milorganite that was donated to the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County and subsequently applied on parkland.[36] The cost to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and tax payers was estimated as $4.7 million.[37] PCBs were banned from commerce in the US in the mid-1970s. The source of the PCB contamination was later determined to be a shuttered die-casting facility. The PCBs made their way to the treatment plant when sewer lines were cleaned years after the facility stopped operation.

The United States Geological Survey analyzed in 2014 nine different consumer products containing biosolids as a main ingredient for 87 organic chemicals found in cleaners, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and other products. These analysis detected 55 of the 87 organic chemicals measured in at least one of the nine biosolid samples, with 45 chemicals found in Milorganite.[38][citation needed]

The incidence and effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFOs and PFA) in Milorganite, and municipal waste in general—as a part of the waste stream, and as a source of water and environmental contamination—has been a subject of study, controversy and concern.[39][40]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Studies paid for by the water district at the University of Georgia and Cornell showed it to be effective in deterring deer.[27] However, the projected cost of EPA certification was estimated at between $1 and $2 million, equivalent to half the organization's entire annual $2 to $3 million advertising and public contract budget.


  1. ^ a b c "About us". Milorganite/Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. Archived from the original on 2006-04-10. Retrieved 2014-03-28.
  2. ^ "MILORGANITE Trademark Information". Trademarkia. Archived from the original on 2019-09-20. Retrieved 2019-09-20. The MILORGANITE trademark is filed in the category of Chemical Products. The description provided to the USPTO for MILORGANITE is Fertilizer and soil conditioning compounds for domestic and agricultural use.
  3. ^ a b c d Schneider, Daniel (2012). "7, "Purification or Profit: Milwaukee and the Contradiction of Sludge"". In Foote, Stephanie; Mazzolini, Elizabeth (eds.). Histories of the Dustheap: Waste, Material Cultures, Social Justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. pp. 170–192. ISBN 9780262517829.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Schneider, Daniel (2011). Hybrid Nature: Sewage Treatment and the Contradictions of the Industrial Ecosystem (Urban and Industrial Environments) (Hardcover). The MIT Press. p. 175. ISBN 9780262016445. Winner, 2013 George Perkins Marsh Prize, awarded by the American Society for Environmental History
  5. ^ a b c "Milorganite Reaches 9 Billion Pounds with 85 Years of Recycling" (Press release). Milwaukee, Wisconsin: PRWEB. 2012-06-02. Retrieved 2014-03-26.
  6. ^ "There's a Shortage of Milorganite". 2019-05-02. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
  7. ^ a b c Tanzilo, Bobby (2017-05-12). "Urban spelunking: Brewing up Milorganite". RSS Feed/OnMilwaukee.com. Archived from the original on 2024-06-14. Retrieved 2022-02-01.
  8. ^ a b Merritt, Raymond H. (1982). Historical Report Photographs, Written Historical and Descriptive Data (PDF). National Park Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-04-07. Retrieved 2014-04-01. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  9. ^ 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. Archived from the original on March 30, 2014. Retrieved March 29, 2014..
  10. ^ "History of Milorganite". Milorganite/Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. Archived from the original on March 26, 2014. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
  11. ^ Eleventh Annual Report of the Sewerage Commission of the City of Milwaukee for 1924, pp. 32–42.
  12. ^ 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 2014-04-02.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ a b "Environmental Draft Impact Statement: Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District; Water Pollution Abatement Program, No. E1S801072DB". Environmental Protection Agency. 1980-11-01. p. V-100. Retrieved 2014-04-01.
  14. ^ a b 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. University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-05-30. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
  15. ^ American Society of Civil Engineers (1974-08-13). "Regarding designation of the Jones Island plant as a national engineering landmark" (Press release).
  16. ^ Program Management Office, Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program; CH2M HILL, INC.; Donohue & Associates, Inc.; Howard Needles Tammen & Bergendoff; Graef, Anhalt, Schloemer and Associates, Inc.; Poly tech, Inc.; J.C. Zimmerman Engineering Corp.; Camp Dresser & McKee, Inc. (1982-04-01). Historic Documentation of the Jones Island West Plant (PDF). Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-09-14. Retrieved 2015-08-08. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ "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.
  18. ^ "Milorganite's History". Milorganite. 2016-08-02. Archived from the original on 2022-02-01. Retrieved 2022-02-01.
  19. ^ "Golf House of Wisconsin Museum". Wisconsin State Golf Association. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
  20. ^ Tanzilo, Bobby (2017-05-12). "In Milwaukee History: Milorganite is made! Made in Milwaukee: Milorganite". Made in Milwaukee. House of Harley-Davidson. Archived from the original on 2017-05-12. Retrieved 2017-07-04.
  21. ^ Miller, Matt; O'Connor, George A. (2009). "Longer-term Phytoavailability of Biosolids-Phosphorus". Agronomy Journal. 101 (101): 889–896. doi:10.2134/agronj2008.0197x. or puri.fcla.edu/fcia/etd/UFE0022710
  22. ^ a b Fedigan, Lamont (2015). 21st Century Homestead: Organic Farming. Lulu.com. p. 112. ISBN 9781312937536. Archived from the original on June 14, 2024. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  23. ^ Cooperband, Leslie (September 16, 2002). "Soil Organic Matter with Organic Amendments: A resource for urban and rural gardeners, small farmers, turfgrass managers and large-scale producers" (PDF). University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. Archived (PDF) from the original on November 14, 2018. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
  24. ^ "Standards for the Use and Disposal of Sewage Sludge" (PDF). Region 10: The Pacific Northwest. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 11, 2014.
  25. ^ a b c Harrison, Ellen Z. Director (2006). "Fact Sheet 2006: Home Garden Use of Milorganite" (PDF). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Waste Management Institute. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 20, 2013. Retrieved March 28, 2014.
  26. ^ "Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)". Milorganite. Archived from the original on April 7, 2014. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
  27. ^ a b Behm, Don (January 18, 2009). "EPA derails plans to market Milorganite as deer repellent". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Archived from the original on March 30, 2014. Retrieved March 29, 2014.
  28. ^ "January 2009". Weekly Updates. National Biosolids Partnership. January 22, 2009. Archived from the original on June 14, 2024. Retrieved March 28, 2014.
  29. ^ "What are biosolids?". Australian Water Association. Archived from the original on 23 April 2015. Retrieved 24 April 2015.
  30. ^ "Biosolids: Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey Report – Overview". water.epa.gov. 23 April 2014. Archived from the original on 2015-02-16. Retrieved 2015-05-18.
  31. ^ "ISCORS Assessment of Radioactivity in Sewage Sludge: Recommendations on Management of Radioactive Materials in Sewage Sludge and Ash at Publicly Owned Treatment Works" (PDF). United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Interagency Steering Committee on Radiation Standards. April 2004. Archived (PDF) from the original on 18 November 2008. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  32. ^ a b "Land Application and Composting of Biosolids" (PDF). Water Environment Federation. Archived (PDF) from the original on January 19, 2022. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  33. ^ Fantle, Will (November 1996). "'Flush With Suspicion' (Re: Milwaukee's WWTP Milorganite Sludge Product)". Milwaukee Magazine. Vol. 21, no. 11. pp. 48–55. Archived from the original on 2017-03-11. Retrieved 2018-01-25.
  34. ^ "Milorganite Safety on Human Health and the Environment". www.milorganite.com. 29 July 2016. Archived from the original on 2022-01-24. Retrieved 2019-08-29.
  35. ^ Hale, Robert C.; La Guardia, Mark J.; Harvey, Ellen P.; Gaylor, Michael O.; Mainor, T. Matteson; Duff, William H. (July 12, 2001). "Flame retardants: Persistent pollutants in land-applied sludges". Nature. 412 (6843): 140–14. Bibcode:2001Natur.412..140H. doi:10.1038/35084130. PMID 11449259. S2CID 4395266.
  36. ^ Behm, Don (July 21, 2007). "Chemicals in fertilizer shut parts of parks". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Archived from the original on August 30, 2009.
  37. ^ Behm, Don (July 13, 2008). "Milorganite contamination sourced". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on September 21, 2015. Toxic chemical may have leaked from old die-casting company
  38. ^ "Land Application of Municipal Biosolids". Environmental Health – Toxic Substances. United States Geological Survey. Archived from the original on November 11, 2020. Retrieved April 24, 2015.
  39. ^ Lee, Linda S.; et al. (March 13, 2019). "PFAS – More Than You Ever Wanted to Know and Then Some" (PDF). Purdue University Biosolids Conference. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 20, 2019. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
  40. ^ Kim Lazcano, Rooney; Perre, Chloé; Mashtare, Michael L.; Lee, Linda S. (2019). "Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in commercially available biosolid-based products: The effect of treatment processes". Water Environment Research. 91 (12): 1669–77. doi:10.1002/wer.1174. ISSN 1061-4303. PMID 31260167.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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. Vol. 92, no. 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). Milwaukee, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.
  • Leary, Raymond D.; Peot, Werner A. (1973). Development of a Wastewater Treatment System for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

External links[edit]