What better way to take your mind off the steaming pile of commentary on the upcoming presidential election than a fun, government-backed contest to rename the genuine item?
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago wants to sell the organic biosolids harvested from our sewage, and it is giving you until the end of August to come up with a catchy new name for the same old stuff.
"Everyone's favorite is 'Royal Soil No. 2, straight from the throne,'" says MWRD President Mariyana Spyropoulos, who notes that the "Name That Biosolid" contest is drawing more attention than the usual sewage plant open house. To submit a name, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the MWRD on Facebook or Twitter, with the hashtag #NameThatBiosolid.
"We try to get the public involved," Spyropoulos says. "We want to show them how their tax dollars are being used, and we're having a little fun with it."
Made from sewage that is run through a centrifuge to get rid of the liquid waste and then subjected to other treatments, the resulting biosolids are a top-notch fertilizer, she says.
"It's similar to wine in that you need to let it ferment a little bit," Spyropoulos says, gushing about the process that transforms human waste into a usable product. "Not as exciting as turning water into wine, but a small miracle nonetheless."
Cheaper and touted as more environmentally friendly than many chemical fertilizers, the biosolids have been spread across more than 50 Chicago parks, including the highly acclaimed Maggie Daley Park. "We want to expand that to homeowners," Spyropoulos says, envisioning a day when suburban gardeners can go to the local hardware store to stock up on bags of Chicago's finest, turning our river of sewage into a "revenue stream."
You'd never know the organic material used to be sewage.
"It feels like topsoil," she says. "This also has a lot of nutrients, which is why it is so good. It's been very popular. We have a never-ending supply of it and everybody loves it."
In the 1980s, the MWRD used to distribute a biosolid dubbed "New Earth," but it contained too much cadmium.
"We've since worked with the EPA. We've played with the formula and cleaned it up," Spyropoulos says, explaining how the biosolids now meet the higher standards required for use with edible items. "This product will be able to be used to grow your tomatoes."
But if the MWRD wants to sell more than 90,000 tons of the stuff a year, it needs a name that appeals to consumers. Milwaukee calls its biosolids "Milorganite." Washington, D.C., markets its biosolids as "Bloom."
Spyropoulos figures Chicago can come up with something cleverer. The contest is not a popularity contest, so MRWD promises to flush entries such as Poopy McPoopface that can't pass muster.
"We've had a lot of imagination. Did you ever see that movie 'Soylent Green'?" she says, noting that "Soylent Brown" is a possibility. So is Burnham Blend, ChicaGrow, Marvel Mulch, Midwest Mud, Taxpayer Relief and a host of names playing off the Chi-Town moniker, such as Chi-Chips or Chi-Town Gold.
Having grown up on a farm and made my living as a newspaper columnist, I've shoveled my share of the stuff and spread a lot of manure. So I think the MWRD should give its biosolid a name that already comes with a well-known tagline. I can see it now: "Chi-Nola -- you'll know the difference."