Preserving the Environment

The Surprising Second Life of Urine

August 14, 2014
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The Surprising Second Life of Urine
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
"Pee-cycling" could help keep our waterways clean and reduce the need for synthetic fertilizer.

A group of environmentalists in Brattleboro, Vt. want yellow to be the new green.

Since 2012, the Rich Earth Institute has been collecting the urine of 170 volunteers as part of the so-called “Urine Nutrient Reclamation Project.” Their goal? To hand over 6,000 gallons of urine to a local farmer to use on her hay fields, NPR reports.

If you can get past the ickiness, the mission of the organization’s “pee-cycling” project is quite noble.

First of all, using urine as a fertilizer reduces the need for synthetic fertilizer, which is expensive and requires lot of energy to produce. Urine from a healthy body can act as an all-natural fertilizer since it’s rich in nitrogen and phosphorus that comes straight from the plants we eat. So why not put these nutrients back into the ground?

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Secondly, as co-founder Abraham Noe-Hays told NPR, diverting urine from wastewater treatment plants means our waterways stay clean.

“One goal is preventing the pollution caused by peeing in water — keeping pee out of the waterways and protecting water quality,” Noe-Hays said. “And we can also make agriculture more sustainable and resilient by returning these nutrients to the soil. Urine is an inherently local and renewable source of fertilizer.”

According to Grist, the urine collected from the Rich Earth Institute has been sanitized via pasteurization before application.

Although pee-cycling is common in France, Sweden and Nepal, this is the first legally authorized and publicly documented community-scale urine reuse project in the United States. Encouragingly, the Rich Earth Institute received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was selected for funding from the Environmental Protection Agency.

So don’t put a lid on this idea just yet.

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