Packaged organic compost is often human sewage

joellenh(6b Jenks)May 6, 2011

Seriously? Ewwww.

Dody I need more bunny poop ;)

I will never buy a bag of anything again without reading the ingredients.

If I wanted human waste on my garden, my family makes plenty. Thank you, but no thank you.


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I feel so disheartened. That is so disappointing. Good thing I started my own compost pile. Sigh!


    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 11:50PM
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I actually don't see where it ever actually says packaged compost is where the sludge is.

Actually, the article doesn't say much of anything concrete. Maybe it was just poorly written or maybe it is meant to be misleading.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 12:59AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I think this is one of those articles that has a kernel of truth in it, but likely is highly exaggerated.

The issue of human sewage being found in some compost products is not a new one by any means. The popular soil amendment/fertilizer Sul-Po-Mag made by Milorganite is a biosolid product and it has been sold for as long as I can remember.

Usually, products that contain sewage sludge have the word "biosolid" somewhere on their label or on the company's website.
Often, the sewage sludge is found in compost given away or sold at a nominal price by municipalities. After all, every city/county has to deal with the waste product that comes from their water treatment plants. What do you think they do with it? Are they hauling the biosolids to a distant part of your county or city and piling the stuff up and just letting it set there forever? Not likely. This stuff may not be labeled when it is put into municipal compost and it is why I personally would avoid "free" or "cheap" compost from a city. However, if you check with your city and ask if their compost contains sewage sludge or biosolids, you should feel free to use their compost if they say "no" and you believe they are telling the truth.

Still, I'm curious about why the thought of human sewage sluldge bothers you more than the thought of animal manure? Except for our own animals that we personally raise and feed (so we know what they're eating), and except for the fairly small organic meat industry, commercially raised meat products come from animals that may be fed all sorts of hormones and medications. Do you want animal manure that has that stuff in it? Just curious.

If you eat produce imported into the USA from elsewhere, it can be grown using sewage sludge and you won't see any label on an orange or apple or lettuce telling you that. That's the price you pay for cheap produce. (Cheap is a relative term...)

The linked article lists some specific municipalities and commercial compost producers that use sewage sludge. Often on the label it is listed as "biosolids".

Commercially sold fertilizer often contains heavy metals too, so if you're avoiding commercially-sold compost because it might contain biosolids, you likely want to avoid non-organic commercial fertilizers unless they list their ingredients. Even in organic products you can find biosolids.

Keep in mind, too, that unless you are buying only certified organic food and beverages, you have no idea how the food you're buying is raised. So, it is likely you're eating food and drinking beverages raised with all sorts of stuff you'd never use in your own personal garden.

Water isn't pure either. All kinds of residues are found in minute amounts in municipal water supplies.

We do not live in a "pure" and "clean" world by any means.

The longer I garden, the less likely I am to buy and "import" any material into my garden. For example, I'd rather use our own animals' manure than to buy purchased manure. I'd rather make our own compost than buy commercial compost. I'd rather mulch with locally sourced grass clippings (from our own property only, because I know chemicals aren't used on it) or hay/straw from local ranchers I personally know. (I still test it for herbicide contamination before I use it.)

Every person has to decide what products they will or won't use. If you think about this stuff too much, you'll get to where you won't want to buy anything.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sourcewatch: Sewage Sludge/Biosolids

    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 6:12AM
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joellenh(6b Jenks)

I try to make as much compost as I can, but when filling new beds I've had to resort to purchased stuff.

Dawn, re human waste vs animal waste: I don't know, it's just gross. LOL.

It's a pesonal predjudice like....I will eat chicken but I won't eat horse. I guess it's how we're raised...

Aside from that, I cannot imagine that compost from meat eating sources (humans, dogs) would be any good for the garden?


    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 8:22AM
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jo- that means you could compost kelley stuff!! lol. i do, however understand your aversion.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 9:21AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Manure from any animal can have certain bacteria and other pathogens you wouldn't want in compost, but generally 'hot' composting will kill them. If you cold compost, the temps might not be cold enough to kill them. Specifically with regards to cat and dog manure, there are pathogens that might not be killed even by hot composting, so it generally is recommended that those two kinds of manure not be used in compost piles. I put chicken manure from our own chickens on our compost piles, but we do not use antibodies or hormones with our chickens, unlike the commercial (non-organic) chicken industry. When we had rabbits, I put their manure on our compost pile. When we had DS's iguana, I did not collect and use iguana manure because of the salmonella risk. : ) See, there are some animal manures I just won't use either.

There's a book that's fairly popular in some circles called "Humanure". From the title you probably can guess what it is about.

People who use composting toilets often add the waste product from their composting toilet to their compost piles because, often, it fits in with their desire to live a sustainable lifestyle.

I understand your aversion to it, but my point is that most of what you buy at the store, unless you're buying certified organic, likely is raised with fertilizer that contains heavy metals and/or sewer sludge. That's food for thought, isn't it? If the average person knew more about how produce is raised, for example, they'd likely want to raise their own and they'd want to raise it as organically as possible. So many of the fruits and veggies we buy are treated heavily with pesticides, fungicides and, in some cases, herbicides. Personally, I'd rather not eat foods containing residues of those items, but if you are buying and eating non-organic produce, there's no way around it.

The longer I garden, the less I add to my garden in terms of soil amendments and mulch. At the rate I'm going, it will get to where I'll only use chopped/shredded leaves and grass clippings from our place, and then kitchen waste from fruits and veggies, and eggshells in the compost pile.

If you have the need to purchase compost, I think you could feel safe by purchasing mushroom compost since it has already been used to raise mushrooms before you buy it. I used to buy bagged cow manure (Black Kow, because it is 100% manure and no filler) and bagged compost, but because of all the issues with herbicide contamination in commercially-purchased garden amendments in recent years, I've pretty much stopped buying either of them.

Even though we are not happy about some of the practices and chemicals used in raising food, the agriculture industry does manage to raise enough food to feed us all, doesn't it? You never hear of people starving to death because of famine in the USA, so you have to give them credit for providing us with a steady food supply even if it isn't raised exactly the way we'd prefer.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 9:59AM
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I use the City of Norman's free compost for lawn topdressing, and I plan to use a large amount of it to amend the soil for our new garden this fall. So, after reading this I went on a hunt for information on what goes into their compost, especially considering that the facility itself it right next door to the wastewater treatment plant.

From the information I found, it seems that the compost is made up only of yard waste collected by the sanitation department, such as mulched tree limbs, leaves, etc. There's a wastewater treatment plan on the City of Norman's website that says all the biosolids produced are used as fertilizer on agricultural land. There's no mention at all of it being used on the compost. I suppose a phone call would get better answers, but I'm not too concerned about it. I could never make enough compost on my own to cover the whole garden the way I want to.

I guess in my mind the pros outweigh the cons until I'm gardening on a large enough scale that my own compost will meet all my needs.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 1:24PM
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I strongly object to the statement that "commercially raised meat products come from animals that may be fed all sorts of hormones and medications".

I believe the science, testing, regulations, and ethics behind commercially raised meat is incredible. I still might object to a few things they are fed, but there are always gray areas in anything.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 6:39PM
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littledog(z7 OK)

Remember that hile "yard waste" to you means grass clippings; to someone else, it might mean the left over stumps and scraggly branches after something has died of a disease, or grass that's been sprayed with some "weed and feed" style "pre-emergent" weed killer. Blech.

We found where the local tree trimming businesses dump their wood chips, and can get all we want for free. Back in the winter, I didn't think twice and hauled home several truckloads. But now that it's warmed up, and I know that utilities are spraying herbicides to keep growth down under powerlines, I'm more cautious. I want to see signs that the tree or branch was healthy when it was cut down, not withered and brown from Roundup. OTOH, there's something slowly killing all the pine trees in the area, and those shavings I will gather. I have no pines here, as I make it a habit to avoid unhappy plants, and pines just don't want to live in central Oklahoma. Apparently, it's not effecting Red Cedars or Elms (our weed trees), or Oaks or fruit trees, so I'm not worried about introducing disease.

That said, the main problem could see from using certain human and animal waste on a food garden is that as it's been mentioned, pathogens like E coli might not be killed in the composting.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 11:02PM
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I completely understand that there's no telling what goes into the compost beyond knowing that it's probably not human waste. After I threw a few car loads of it on my backyard "lawn" (about 70% bare soil, 20% weeds, and 10% bermuda) last fall, I had to go back and pick up pieces of plastic twine, garbage bags, and even some pieces of metal from who knows what. I would hope that at least some the possible diseases and weed seeds and whatnot would be killed by the hot composting process, though.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2011 at 12:08AM
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All sludge biosolids contain large quantities of industrial pollutants, drugs, pharma, etc.
Here is the link to the EPA's most recent report identifying the pollutants it found in sludge biosolids: Only the 9 toxic metals in bold text are regulated. The rest of the chemicals EPA listed are untested, unmonitored and unregulated.
Your readers should know it is risky to use any sludge biosolids product on any food or animal fodder crops because plants uptake sludge pollutants. Toxins can bioaccumulate in humans and in the meat and milk of livestock.
Respectfully submitted, Helane Shields, Alton, NH

    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 5:37PM
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Under NO circumstances are my "biosolids" being composted!!!! Although it's probably the first time my vegetarianism has been such a perk!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 5:45PM
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oh, the plans i had kelleyp! houses on the Riviera, millions in swiss banks, honestly - world domination wasn't out the the question.

and there it goes - my future, shot down before my eyes...

fine. :)


    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 7:48PM
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joellenh(6b Jenks)


That was the phrase I was looking for. They do it in a lot of places. But not me, no way no how. Not even from a veggie.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 8:49PM
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