Biosolids are safe, and here’s why!

There are many misconceptions about Biosolids

The most common misconception is that biosolids are just the dirty remains of “sludge water” that will make us sick if we ingest them – but this is not at all accurate! There are four types of pathogenic organisms (disease causing) that can be present in biosolids. However, it is important to note that these organisms are typically found in almost all types of manure or other nutrient supplements and are not limited to biosolids. These four pathogenic organisms are:

  1. Bacteria
  2. Viruses
  3. Protozoa
  4. Helminthes (parasitic worms)

Don’t panic! Most of these are destroyed through the treatment and digestion process at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Those remaining are diminished over time as heat, sunlight, desiccation and other microorganisms all destroy pathogens that may be present. These risks are all very similar to those of other manures, but biosolids have the advantage of being monitored much more strictly. Unlike any other type of manure, biosolids are sampled and analyzed regularly for potential issues. Municipalities are responsible for testing, by certified laboratories, in accordance with nutrient management regulations.

The Standards Check

Legal use of biosolids in Canada must adhere to specific standards checks.

  • Quality of biosolids requirement: biosolids themselves must meet specific requirements of composition ensuring their benefits and eliminating health risks
  • Suitable receiving sites: farm land is of proper soil composition and topography
  • Suitable application quantities: fertilizer is distributed over farm land accurately according to crop requirements
  • Geographic requirements: proximity to homes, wells, watercourses or other sensitive features are adequate to ensure there is no disturbance to the surrounding environment

With all of these checks and balances in place, it is not hard to believe that there are presently no documented cases of adverse effects of biosolids when they are being used properly. With so many parties ensuring the safety of biosolids use, along with much of the scientific data about the benefits of biosolids, feel confident that biosolids are a benefit to our agricultural communities and our health.

Learn more about our land application services or download the audit Turning Organic Waste into Value worksheet to determine the best solution for you.

Winter Spreading and Biosolids

Sewage Biosolids

Sewage biosolids are a nutrient-rich residue classified as a non-agricultural source material that can be applied to farmland as a soil builder or fertilizer, to promote healthy soils and healthy plants. Biosolids are used similarly as animal manure to help build organic matter, nutrients, microbial activity and micronutrients to soil.

In Ontario, spreading sewage biosolids on farmland during the winter months is prohibited. The spreading must adhere to the Nutrient Management Regulations that state biosolids cannot be spread from December 1 to March 31 of any year. In addition, biosolids cannot be spread on snow-covered or frozen ground regardless of the dates stated.

The Ontario government has good reason for putting these rules in place, as the number one priority of the regulation is to enhance the natural environment and provide a sustainable future for agricultural operations. Here at Wessuc, we also believe that protecting the environment is a priority, and we work hard to ensure that we follow the regulation and use best management practices for determining suitable field conditions for spreading throughout the year.

Spreading biosolids on snow-covered or frozen ground can increase the risk of run-off of biosolids into sensitive areas. This happens because biosolids cannot penetrate the frozen ground, and instead of entering the soil, they can wash off the field into surface water such as; ditches, streams, or ponds.

Run-off of nutrients into ditches, streams, ponds and non-agricultural areas can create adverse effects on humans, wildlife, aquatic life and the natural ecosystems. The two most common nutrients that can negatively impact non-agricultural land is nitrogen and phosphorus. In particular, phosphorus can accelerate eutrophication in our lakes and streams, resulting in the pollution of water through excessive algae growth which depletes oxygen and sunlight.

Furthermore, spreading of biosolids or any other nutrient on snow-covered or frozen land also does not have a benefit to the farmer. The number one reason why manures and biosolids are used on farm fields is because they help to increase the health of the soil. By adding nutrients to the soil, we can help to build healthy soils to grow crops. But, spreading fertilizers, manures, or NASM in the winter results in a significant loss of the applied nutrients to the environment by run-off, evaporation and wind erosion. As a result, farmers would have to apply more nutrients to their farm field to account for the loss of nutrients in the winter, which can be expensive and time consuming. The best time to capture the most nutrients possible for the soil is directly before planting or while there is a standing crop in the field. For this reason, farmers apply the majority of their nutrients during the spring before planting or after the crop has been planted.

People don’t stop going to the bathroom in the winter months.

Although spreading sewage biosolids in the winter is prohibited, we still need ways of managing the biosolids through the winter months. The main ways that we deal with this problem is by creating large storage sites, or lagoons to hold the excess material until the land is suitable for spreading. Every municipality handles their sewage biosolid storages differently. Some materials are stored as a liquid in large storage tanks, some are stored in outdoor lagoons, and some are dewatered and stored as solid materials in storage facilities.

Spreading of other nutrient in Winter

Sewage biosolids are the most heavily restricted materials in the Nutrient Management Act. It is designed this way because sewage biosolids contain human body waste, which can contain E. coli, and other pathogens that animal manures do not contain.

This means that all nutrients (fertilizers, manures or NASM materials) are created equally. Spreading of some NASM materials is permitted during the winter months, provided that they follow other sets of rules within the regulation, or follow best management practices. One of the reasons why nutrients may be spread during the winter is because storages are full due to unforeseen circumstances.

Contingency Plans

The storage of biosolids, other NASM, and manures is a common practice in Ontario. All new agricultural operations that have livestock must have a plan to manage their nutrients in the winter months. There are also similar regulations for any municipality or city that manages sewage biosolids under the Ministry of Environment.

But, sometimes the weather can cause problems for farmers, which makes it hard to distribute manures or NASMs in the dry months and storages may not have the capacity to hold the amount of material produced.

Some NASM materials (not including sewage biosolids) and manures can be spread on farm land during the winter months. In most cases, this is a last resort for farmers who have run out of storage space on their farms due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances. These farms should always be following the Nutrient Management Act and Best Management Practices when dealing with these situations.

as per the Nutrient Management Act, O. Reg 267/03 2002

Snow covered ground:
when used in reference to soil, means that a layer of snow with an average minimum depth of five centimeters.
Frozen ground:
when used in reference to soil, means that a layer of soil with an average minimum depth of five centimeters, located within the top 15 centimeters of the soil, is consolidated by the presence of frozen moisture.
Non- Agricultural Source Material
Best Management Practices:
A practical, affordable approach to conserving a farm’s soil and water resources without sacrificing productivity.

Hurry up and get spreading before December 1! Check out our land application services and download the Biosolids Audit to determine your best solution.

Biosolids Management : A Global Perspective

What better way to learn about biosolids management then to compare our processes and procedures at home to those abroad?

Europe provides an excellent example of biosolids management tactics that are creating results that better the environment and the economy. In fact, the European Union (EU) has committed to treating biosolids as a valuable resource, rather than a burden, as a requirement of long-term sustainability. The EU encourages the use of biosolids for both energy and land application. Currently more than half of the biosolids produced in the EU are used on farmlands. Some of the most active European participants in biosolids management include France, Portugal, Belgium, Italy and Denmark.

In Europe, biosolids are encouraged to be used in the following ways:

  • Agricultural cropland application
  • Commercial sale as fertilizer for horticultural landscaping applications
  • Rangeland and pasture application to improve available grazing
  • Land application in reforested areas

European Union Regulation

In 1986 the EU regulated the use of biosolids for the first time after it was already widely used among agricultural practice in many countries. This regulation set a maximum value of concentrations of heavy metals and bans the spreading of biosolids when the concentration of certain substances in the soil exceeds these values. It also requires Member States to keep records of biosolids use on the following subjects:

  • Quantities of biosolids produced and the quantities supplied for the use in agriculture
  • The composition and properties of the biosolids
  • The types of treatments being carried out
  • The names and locations of recipients of land application

Member States must produce a consolidated report every four years to be published by the Commission, who will, if necessary, submit appropriate proposals for any increased protection of the soil and environment. Other relevant legislative materials include the urban wastewater treatment directive, nitrates directive, water framework directive and the hazardous substances regulations. The quantity and composition of biosolids across Europe have been impacted by these precautionary measures.

By providing a variety of laws and rules that regulate the biosolids management industry, the European Union has been able promote the use of biosolids in a safe and environmentally sustainable way. By constantly updating these regulations based on further scientific discovery and amount of sewage sludge being produced, Europe has been able to successfully minimize sludge in landfills and maximize the use of biosolids in a variety of forms.

In Canada, specifically Ontario, we are still years away from managing and regulating biosolids the same as the European Union. To learn more about Ontario’s ‘Waste Free’ Initiative, check out this blog post or contact us to learn more about your options. The European Union is leading the way and Ontario isn’t far behind.

Harvest season is coming, have you considered your soil health?

Harvest season is soon to be upon us in southern Ontario!

Dust will be flying as growers race to harvest their crops at the optimal time. Shortly after harvest, planning and planting for next year will begin. Be sure to consider your soil health when harvesting and planning for next year. There are a number of options available for growers to improve their soil, including:

  • Fertilizer
  • Manure
  • Compost
  • Non Agricultural Source Materials (NASM) such as biosolids

Each nutrient source can help to boost your soil health and can provide unique benefits for your soil and the coming season. Each nutrient source has specific requirements for use under the Nutrient Management Act (NMA) that are important when considering which to use. Check out details for nutrient use here.

Wessuc’s primary recommendation is to pay attention to your manure storage. If your manure storage is filling up again, it should be your primary nutrient source as it also provides a great source of organic matter and micro nutrients to improve your soil health.

If you need help emptying it prior to any fall planting or field preparation contact us, we’d be happy to help with spreading. However, if you aren’t sure which nutrient source works best for you Wessuc can create custom nutrient plans and strategies in time for harvest season. Get started by emailing us at

How the Nutrient Management Act Applies to Non-Agricultural Source Material

What is the Nutrient Management Act?

The Nutrient Management Act (NMA) outlines its purpose “to provide for the management of materials containing nutrients in ways that will enhance protection of the natural environment and provide a sustainable future for agricultural operations and rural development.”

The are two key things to note, protect the environment, and sustain agriculture.  The act and the associated regulations then proceed to lay the foundation, the how, where, when, what, and who to obtain those two goals.

What is non-agricultural source material, or NASM?

The Nutrient Management Act  provides a lot of detailed description regarding what qualifies NASM along with specifications, sampling requirements, and a defined beneficial use requirement for NASM. As a rule of thumb any material from a non-agricultural source that can provide a benefit to the soil or crop in a field is a NASM.  If the intent is to use a non-agricultural source material on agricultural soil it must be shown to provide some benefit. This could be as a nutrient source or as a soil conditioner (reducing pH, adding organic matter).    Once a benefit is established then the NASM must pass additional quality criteria which is typically a sample analysis demonstrating it’s benefit and conversely lack of detriment. Depending on its source the NASM criteria varies.

Generally the source of the NASM will place it into one of three categories:

  1. Category– Unprocessed Plant Material (eg. Vegetable peels, vegetable washwater that contains food grade cleaners, etc.)
  2. Category – Processed Plant Material (eg. food waste, Bakery Waste)
  3. Category- Anything not found in category 1 or 2, including animal based material (eg. meat processing plant waste, municipal biosolids)

Depending on the category of the material different use restrictions  are applied, such as timing of application, application rate, storage, approvals required etc.

The NMA then proceeds to covers the remaining aspects of NASM use:

  • Who can spread (license requirements)
  • When the material can be spread (time of year)
  • Where the NASM can be spread (setbacks from sensitive features)
  • How the NASM must be spread (injection, irrigation).

In this way the Nutrient Management Act covers all aspect of NASM use, from its generation to its final use on agricultural land. Once the who, when, where, and how the Nutrient Management Act applies to NASM is covered, farmers must understand how it affects them.

Farming Using NASM

Farmers using NASM need to be aware of the requirements under the Nutrient Management Act. They will be held responsible for ensuring NASM is applied when beneficial for crop production, must comply with any waiting periods between application and harvesting or grazing, and use best practices to optimize benefits and minimize environmental risk. Depending on the NASM being used they may be required to obtain an approval from OMAFRA prior to incorporating NASM into their Nutrient Management Strategy.

NASM can provide many benefits beyond those of commercial fertilizer. The addition of organic matter enhances soil structure, moisture retention and permeability while reducing erosion potential.  NASMs typically also provide micro nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and copper, in addition to the macro nutrients required for plant growth.  The sequestering of carbon in the organic material into the soil also helps reduce GHGs.

Interested in receiving NASM or have a NASM that you are thinking of using on your farm. Our staff have extensive experience obtaining NASM plans. We can evaluate the benefits with you and assist in obtaining any necessary approvals for your NASM use. We can also help with the field spreading and reporting required. Visit the land application page to contact us. Or download the Checklist to determine the best solution to managing your Biosolids.


Reusing Non-Agricultural Source Material (NASM) to Optimize Agricultural Nutrient Management

Soils are more important to us than we realize, but they are often taken for granted. Around the world, farmers strive for sustainable, productive agricultural soils. In 2015, we celebrated the International Year of Soils as designated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). In FAO’s “The Status of the World’s Soil Resources”, it was reported that soils are deteriorating. They attributed this to a number of factors including:

  • soil erosion,
  • nutrient depletion,
  • loss of organic carbon,
  • over application of mineral fertilizers and pesticides, and
  • declining soil biodiversity.

Further recognition was given by the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) when it declared 2015-2024 the “decade of soils” in an effort to bring more attention to soil’s fundamental role in sustaining human life.

Desertification of Soils Trend and the Nutrient Management Act

Desertification of soils has been an ongoing concern in Canada, specifically in Ontario and Quebec, as soils continue to lose organic matter.

In short, we need to do more to build our soils and we need to do it better. In Ontario, we’ve been working with the Nutrient Management Act (NMA) for over 6 years now. The act and associated regulations ensure that any nutrient rich material (with the exception of fertilizer) is used in a beneficial manner that’s protective of the environment. Non-Agricultural Source Material (NASM) which is nutrient rich material includes manures, biosolids, food and beverage waste, and other non-agricultural source materials. The NMA has provided direction and a push in the right direction for sustainability and environmental responsibility.

The Importance of Biosolids as a NASM

Biosolids is one type of NASM that is key to improving our soils. The land application of biosolids has been going strong for over 50 years in Ontario. They provide many of the same macro and micro nutrients as well as organic matter that are found in manure. The importance of biosolids in agricultural nutrient management is well established and supported by government and academia. The quality of biosolids has continually improved with many municipalities further processing their biosolids into sailable fertilizer product.

Over the past couple of years, there has been a renewed interest in using NASM in different ways:

  • Renewable natural gas,
  • Electricity generation, or
  • Biochar production.

In each instance, a portion of the processed material creates a residual that needs to be managed, typically through beneficial use on agricultural land.

Biosolids Land Application Alternative to Landfills

In Canada, over 2.5 million wet tonnes of biosolids are produced each year. Historically about 25% of that material was taken to landfill, with the remainder either used on agricultural land (35%) or incinerated (40%). Additionally, 34 million tonnes of municipal and industrial waste is generated each year of which only 8 million tonnes (25%) is recycled.

As the province moves towards a more sustainable future, biosolids and other organic materials are becoming coveted resources rather than wastes. New legislation is forcing this change in Ontario with the Waste Free Ontario Act. A renewed focus on reuse has come to the forefront. With diversion goals of 30% by 2020 and up to 80% by 2050, biosolids and other organic resources will no longer be permitted in landfills. Other provinces have already banned organics in landfills.

While biosolids land application and other NASM will increase over the coming years, it will remain a viable and desirable option for municipalities. Only 15% of Ontario’s land base would be needed to use all the biosolids produced in the province beneficially, leaving 85% of the agricultural land available to receive other soil amendments therefore there is a lot of room for growth.

There are additional benefits as returning organic matter to our soils will reduce our carbon footprint through carbon sequestering while simultaneously increasing yields and improving soil resilience. A 1% increase in soil organic matter is approximated to 5.8 tons/acre of sequestered carbon. A study in Michigan also showed a crop-yield increase of about 12% for every 1% increase in soil organic matter.

Biosolids land application produces positive results with both crop production and environmental sustainability. To see biosolids land application in action, check out the Case Study: Brant County. 



Best Practices for Excess Soil Management

In the province of Ontario how do we manage excess soil?

Over 25 million cubic metres of excess soil needs to be managed each year in Ontario. In 2014 the province issued a Best Management Practice to guide the  industry in how to best manage excess soils in order to protect the environment and promote beneficial reuse, but it had little effect. In 2017 the province pushed this initiative farther by releasing a regulatory proposal for Excess Soil Management. The initial intent was to implement the regulatory framework by Jan 1, 2018. Thankfully the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has listened to many of the comments they received from their ERB posting and have committed to a number of changes for the implementation and focus of the regulation:

1) An ammended phased-in approach for the regulation was put forth, implementing reuse standards in 2020 and excess soil management plans and registry requirements in 2021;

2) A recognition that excess soil should be seen first and foremost as a resource rather than a waste;

3) And changes to what triggers an Excess Soil Management Plan (ESMP) being required.

For further details on excess soil management take a look at the following presentation by the Province of Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change from the Canadian Urban Institute Symposium in 2017.


Three Key Benefits of Solid Capturing

The process of solids capture is a cornerstone of waste management productivity for innumerable reasons. Some people within the agricultural and environmental industries may already be aware of capturing solids and its various advantages. For those that do not know, solid capturing or dewatering is essentially the process of wastewater being divided into its liquid and solid constituents. In other words, the not-so-useful sludge we call wastewater is converted into two resources that possess much more utility: freshly treated water and nutrient-rich biosolids. Read ahead to discover how this by-product of water treatment is an economic, environmental, and agricultural asset.

Economic Benefits

Biosolids that are sifted from wastewater would normally be a nuisance that would be expensive to dispose of; however, biosolids have been found greatly beneficial when it comes to agriculture, forestry, lawn maintenance, and home gardening. As well, a lack of solid capture would be more costly for water treatment facilities as it would lead to more frequent maintenance and the breakdown of certain mechanical processes over time. Those that use biosolids on their soil will see economic benefits in their crop yields and overall soil quality. Furthermore, these people will save money as this valuable resource reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.

Environmental Benefits

Since biosolids are a recycled commodity, they are helping the environment simply by reducing what needs to go to the landfill. For farmers, gardeners, and foresters that fertilize with biosolids, they can avoid using chemical fertilizers that have adverse effects on the surrounding environment. Even the process of isolating biosolids from wastewater through dewatering is an eco-friendly act since it improves overall water quality. This means safer drinking and swimming water for us as well as for fish habitats. The suspended solids that biosolids are eventually removed from a can actually harbour a variety of viruses and damage a fish’s respiratory system. To sum it up, biosolids promote more environmentally conscious soil and water maintenance while reducing the impact of our ever-growing landfills.

Agricultural Benefits

In addition to being economically and environmentally viable, biosolids have also proven a precious resource for the agricultural industry. As previously mentioned, biosolids reduce the need for chemical fertilizers; this makes for safer, more natural land while removing a notable expense. The high-quality composition of biosolids is worth mentioning as well. They contain nutrients that are vital to plant growth like phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. Besides these valuable nutrients, biosolids also offer a variety of heavy metals that are considered invaluable micronutrients for plant life. These micronutrients include but are not limited to zinc, nickel, copper, molybdenum, cobalt, and selenium. The presence of these key nutrients equates to greater crop growth and yields and further enriched soil. There is a reason why biosolids are being used in similar areas of expertise ranging from forestry to mine reclamation.

In short, solid capturing has allowed us to create a revolutionary commodity. Biosolids are an opportunity to improve the quality of our fields and the environmental quality of our world as a whole. If you are ever in need of an eco-friendly compost or fertilizer, biosolids are certainly worthy of your consideration.