Can Human Urine Replace Chemical Fertilizers?


The Rich Earth Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont, is likely the only organization measuring success in gallons of urine.

In 2012, Kim Nace, Rich Earth’s administrative director and partner Abe Noe-Hays collected 600 gallons of urine from friends and neighbors. The next year, the organization brought in about 3,000 gallons from 170 human volunteers. Rebecca Rueter, a board member for Rich Earth, invited members of the local women’s chorus to donate their pee.

Rich Earth hopes to double that amount this year to a round 6,000 gallons — enough to fill a third of an average American swimming pool. “We’ve given volunteers a few things to make it easier — some funnel devices and things like that,” says Nace.

The project aims to test human urine as a replacement for chemical fertilizers. Urine contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — essential plant nutrients that are usually mined from the earth or the air for agricultural use. In collecting human urine, Rich Earth is diverting the same chemicals from waterways to farms, making a potentially harmful substance a boon to crop production.

The urine collection scheme has had some unintended consequences for Nace’s home in Brattleboro, which hosts the so-called “urine depot.” There is a buzz of conversation as volunteers drop off 5-gallon jugs to be loaded into larger holding tanks. “When people realize that they produce something every day that can be helpful to the environment and the earth, it’s a very wonderful feeling,” says Nace.

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