Could recycling urine as fertilizer help the environment?


Should we be flushing perfectly good fertilizer down the toilet? Some eco-minded folks are proposing a circular water economy that puts urine to work.

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Urine is packed with nitrogen and phosphorus, which are valuable to agriculture. The problem, of course, is that urine isn’t all that goes into the average toilet. Feces is a major source of pathogens, and not what people want to add to their lettuce. The solution? A urine diverting toilet. These toilets that separate number one from number two are used for various reasons around the world — one of which is to collect urine for use as fertilizer.

Related: Eco-toilet in India helps farmers make their own fertilizer

Worried about fecal mixing? According to the World Health Organization, if you store urine at room temperature for six months, it will self-sanitize enough that you could safely apply it directly to raw produce. Not that we’re advising it.

It’s a bit hard to imagine this idea catching on in the U.S., but some pro-pee advocates are trying hard to promote the number one fertilizer. In Vermont, Rich Earth Institute is actively looking for urine donors and urging locals to become “peecyclers.” The group hosts events and workshops to explain how and why everyone should peecycle.

If you get past the ick factor, a few reasons stand out. Think about how much water we’d save if we diverted urine and didn’t have to flush our toilets so frequently. Plus, we’d save money on the water bill.

And then there’s the issue of how much nitrogen and phosphorus ends up in our waste streams. According to Rich Earth Institute, while urine only makes up 1% of wastewater, it accounts for about 75% of the nitrogen and 55% of the phosphorus in that wastewater. Some of which inevitably winds up in bodies of water, contributing to harmful algal blooms and transforming lake and marine ecosystems in ways that threaten or even kill resident critters.

However, a urine circular economy might be hard to scale up in cities. But it’s an idea worth thinking about, perhaps starting with your own garden. According to Björn Vinnerås, environmental engineering professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Swedes often use urine as fertilizer and said, “It’s a new way of thinking, or an old new way of thinking.”

Via ARS Technica

Lead image via Pexels



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