The use of human sanitary waste is already helped to solve fertilizer shortages. Recycling of urine reduces water consumption and negative impact to ecology from waste water treatment.
Seems like a fantasy? Since 2012, Reach Earth Institute, noncommercial organization, start to recycle and use human urine as a fertilizer. The organization has developed a recycling system that used in the United States and some countries.
Vicious circle of environmental problems
The growth of the world population increases the intensity of agriculture.
More and more fertilizers are required to maintain soil fertility. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – are the most important fertilizers.
Ammonia production requires huge inputs of energy and fossil fuels. Phosphorus and potassium are produced from ore. All these are energy-consuming and environmentally dirty industries.
Ironically, all three basic elements are found in ordinary human urine, which is drained into the sewer system every day. In modern cities, this is a huge mass of waste, the disposal of which is also financially and energy-intensive.
«It’s like firing up a stove with banknotes», told Dmitriy Mendeleev about burning of crude oil. It looks like this quote could be used to describe flushing fertilizer down the toilet.
Urine gets into nature ammonia, which causes the flowering of water. Hormones, drugs and antibiotics, from human body, also has effect on the ecosystem. This effect has been proven, but the consequences have not been studied.
Two problems – one solution
In conditions of scarcity of natural resources, as well as an unstable economic situation, human waste attracted the attention of scientists.
Since 2012, the Rich Earth Institute has developed a system for collecting, transporting, processing and using fertilizers from urine. Scientists have also created a system of dry assembly, processing and composting of faeces. Human waste is not flushed into the sewage system, spending drinking water on it.
Photo from the website of the Rich Earth Institute: https://richearthinstitute.org/urine-nutrient-recycling-on-world-toilet-day/
At the first stage of its activity, the Rich Earth Institute began to collect urine in the form of donations in its hometown of Vermont. Currently, the technology of automated urine collection has been developed. Special toilets can collect urine and faeces separately. The system does not need water for flushing. Systems of storage and processing of large volumes, pasteurization and dehydration, high-temperature treatment or ultraviolet disinfection, has been developed also.
As a result, a system of recycling of human wastes has been created. It will improve the environment and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Why separate collection of urine and faeces?
According to the Rich Earth Institute, human urine contains ammonia, phosphorus and potassium, while faeces consist of organic matter and carbon. When mixed, recycling becomes significantly more difficult, if not impossible.
And what is in practice?
In practice, this is not the first such decision. European countries also began to use urine for the production of fertilizers.
Gotland Island, Sweden. Fresh water is in short supply on the island, so Sanitation 360 is implementing a urine collection system. Up to 250 liters of urine can be collected and dried in special cassettes, installed into the toilet. The company replaces the filled cassette with an empty one and moved for fertilizer facility.
Photo from the website https://sanitation360.se/our-product/#howitworks (process descriptions also there)
There’re plans to install 600 new toilets for separate collection of urine in Paris and the use of the resulting fertilizer for landscaping the city. Similar projects exist in Germany.
Developing countries are not lagging behind either
Poor African countries use human waste most intensively. So to speak: «there would be no happiness, but misfortune would help.» Due to Western sanctions, Russian fertilizers do not enter the African countries and the idea of using human waste is rapidly gaining popularity.
Back in 2016, the Container-Based Sanitation Alliance (CBSA) was established. The organization promotes and help to install container sanitation in the poorest countries. As a rule, these are not only poor, but also densely populated countries of Africa.
The scheme of separate collection of urine and feces, without the use of water and electricity.
Local CBSA members, for a monthly fee (which is incomparably lower than the construction and maintenance of sewerage) install and maintain toilets.
They replace filled containers with clean ones and provide recycling. Urine and feces are collected in different containers, which ensures a long service life and simplification of processing.
Fertilizers, compost, raw materials for the production of feed insects, even building materials are made from waste.
Precious water is saved, the cleanliness of settlements is ensured. According to CBS (https://cbsa.global/about-us ) in just 1 year, from 2021 to 2022, about 10 874 toilets were serviced and 18 207 tons of sludge recycled.
Of course, here in Russia, we don’t have any problems with water or electricity and such news causes irony among many of our compatriots.
Who knows how technological progress will turn out to be. It is quite possible that after a while there will be special toilets in our apartments and houses. And transport of urine to the recycling system will be a routine. Who could have imagined ten years ago the large-scale construction of waste recycling plants, separate garbage collection in Russian cities or a large-scale cleaning of the Russian Arctic coast? Another question is, when Russian officials and business will feel the personal benefit of such projects.
Personally, I am for any opportunities and payments that will help to save the Planet. What about you?