Urine for Life!

This musing leads inexorably to this site.            An ongoing human challenge is clean drinking water and the prevention of human-waste-caused disease and pollution. Here’s our present solution . . .   we use gigantic amounts of energy and other resources to make a lot of water drinkable.   Then, we use most of that water for things other than drinking or cooking. Not only do we use drinking water to keep our lawns alive and wash our cars, we even use it to flush our wastes down the toilet! “Get outta here!” you say? But, that’s not all . . . we then use lots more energy to treat that formerly treated water (now even more unsanitary than before) to enable us to return it to our waterways! “Stop!” you protest. But, wait, there’s more . . . In the midst of all of this massive energy use, purification and re-dirtying of water, we also mine, manufacture and transport a boatload of fertilizes – like phosphates and nitrogen – to grow the plants we need to eat, consuming yet again another big slug of energy. And, of course, after going to the ends of the Earth to acquire these nutrients, they ultimately end up in our urine and feces which we so conveniently flush away with our treated water! Arghhhh!  One more thing . . . when some of that mined and manufactured fertilizer runs off our lands and even a tiny amount of it escapes our treatment systems, it pollutes our waterways. No problem . . . we just throw more energy and money at the problem and . . .


Whew! Just writing that paragraph made me tired! As ludicrous as it sounds, though, the system just described is an accurate representation of the water and wastewater treatment process used in the United States, other developed countries and a growing number of other places around the world. To be fair, dealing with sanitation in a sloppy or incomplete manner is a disaster, and modern water and sewage treatment has prevented untold amounts of sickness and death.   Absolutely.   However, the monetary and energy expenditures and unintended consequences of this giant system make it increasingly untenable. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 3-4% of our county’s electricity consumption goes to treat our water and wastewater. EPA points out that “Water and wastewater utilities are typically the largest consumers of energy in municipalities, often accounting for 30-40 percent of total energy consumed.” (see http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/sustain/waterefficiency.cfm)  Water, waste treatment and farming systems we’ve created demand huge inputs of resources, cause us to neglect nutrient cycles and contribute mightily to the un-sustainability of our society. But there is also great opportunity . . .


Enter the Rich Earth Institute.   Its moniker heralding the direction it wishes for society, Rich Earth is “dedicated to advancing and promoting the use of human waste as a resource.” Kim Nace and Abe Noe-Hayes have created a non-profit team in Vermont, and they are serious about this endeavor, carefully and methodically documenting and researching the effectiveness and safety of urine as fertilizer and documenting the ways in which such a process can help us unravel the monstrous system described above. They are demonstrating the methods and technologies for urine collection, storage and application to farm fields, and working to make them economically viable. In short, they are helping our society find ways to make best use of our resources rather than literally pissing them away!


The Rich Earth Institute is making a case for diversion and use of human urine partly based on the logic of recycling wastes to provide nutrients for farming when mined and manufactured fertilizers become scarce and expensive. However, Rich Earth also points out the huge savings of money, water and energy that can result as we move away from our present system of waste and water treatment. Their work should compel us to give pee a chance!   Find out more about Rich Earth at http://richearthinstitute.org/ and consider contributing to their cause!   See www.richearthinstitute.org/appeal.


Can our society create new systems to treat water and handle wastes that are safe, effective and sustainable? Will companies like Rich Earth be successful? The answers to these questions lie partly in the actual technologies and processes being developed, of course. To use a variation on the cliché, if we can put a man on the moon and handle human waste in the confines of a spacecraft, surely we can develop working systems on Earth! The solutions down here on Earth will be simple and low-tech compared to those on a spacecraft, but will use the same principle of “peecycling!”


Whether peecycling succeeds on Earth is probably more a function of mindset than technology. How does the term peecycling, resonate with you?   How will concepts such as “toilet to table” and “urine diversion” be received in “polite company” let alone political and educational discourse? Will a perceived “ick factor” dissuade us from even examining alternatives to waste treatment? Or will we see peecycling “as natural as the day is long” and, ultimately, the direction we will have to go?


Our underlying image of humanity as above and separate from Earthly processes will probably impede progress for a while. As we begin to rediscover that we are of this Earth, that we are the conscious creativity of this planet, there is potential for our imagination and courage to transcend the “ick factor.” Once we breach that dam, our acceptance of and active support for new ways of living that are compatible with the life of our planet will flow forth.


Check out the follow sites on how the use of human urine is and can be part of that flow!









http://permaculturenews.org/2011/11/27/urine-closing-the-npk-loop/ http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/8-reasons-why-you-should-pee-your-garden.html