Human waste made into fertilizer for Kansas City trees

Kansas City is turning black into green: black as in sewage and green as in leafy trees.

The city is using “biosolids” — yes, they are what they sound like — as a high-power fertilizer to nourish hundreds of saplings destined to shade the city’s streets and grace its parks.

But the benefits go beyond aesthetics. The city saves money on trees, the trees improve air quality, and something distasteful gets turned into something useful.

"We're trying to do the full circle here," said Forest Decker, manager of forestry and conservation in the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department.

Decker looked out recently on two acres of young trees planted in rows on the grounds of the city's Birmingham sewage treatment plant in the bottoms on the north side of the Missouri River. Behind him on the hill were large lagoons storing human byproducts that used to be incinerated.

For several years, Tim Walters, agronomist for the Kansas City Water Services Department, has been using biosolids to fertilize trees and crops on the roughly 1,300-acre property. Last fall, Decker's crew and volunteers also began planting young trees here for later transplantation throughout the city.

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