When I read about peecycling in the NYT something in me went the way it must with many, yuck, but I quickly remembered how growing up in Morocco, a while back of course, a place which at the time had its fair share of horse drawn carriages, how often I would see people shovel in hand scour the streets where they had trodden collecting horse manure. They would later mix it with a bit of straw and sell as fertilizer. So why not collect urine? It is now the work of the Rich Earth Institute in Vermont a non- profit which describes itself as engaging in research, education and technological innovation to advance the use of human waste as a resource. It turns out that human urine contains the very nutrients that make the best fertilizers, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Chemical fertilizers use a lot of fossil fuels, and the war in Ukraine not only is reinforcing the need to move away from fossil fuels, it is also highlighting a shortage of fertilizer. Human solid waste is already being used, but human urine is even more beneficial because it has more nutrients.
The Rich Earth Institute gives jugs and funnels to those interested in collecting their urine. For some there can be a cistern installed and there is a way for the institute to come and collect it. The whole idea is not yet worked out so that it can be more generally used., but they are working on it.
The Institute as it turns out is not the only place in the world which works to use human urine. In Southern Niger, where chemical fertilizer can be too expensive for many farmers, it was discovered that the place where people relieved themselves had greater yields. They began to collect urine, and pasteurize it for a couple of month before using it– as is on wet ground or mixed with water on dry soil. They have noticed that when they used urine as fertilizer the yield is 30% more. And in Paris some new apartments will be equipped with toilets which can automatically collect the urine. The more I read about it, the more the whole idea makes sense and given that we must find alternatives to fossil fuels and to fertilizers, the idea overcomes its own yuck factor and becomes attractive.