Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

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  • AndyWarren
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

I'v e been slow to respond to Hanns-Andre's post about using urine and the great pictures he uploaded. Thanks so much - also to other contributors on this issue.

I used to have a great urine collection system where a urinal in a work building was set up to divert urine to a collection container in a neighbouring shed. The neighbouring shed is now in use by somebody else and whilst the container doesn't take much space it does give off some odour. So I'm currently missing out on the golden liquid and need to arrange something new. Probably just a container with funnel behind the garden shed at home!

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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

If you insert the urine into the soil it eliminates the odor and gives you more nutrient value.  The odor is nutrient value that you are loosing.  Normal urine is sterile so you don't need to go to extreme measures before using.  Letting it sit for a week should be sufficient.  Don't forget the solids.  Exposing the feces to the sun in a closed container for 6 months should kill all pathogens and then it makes a great soil conditioner that promotes all the microorganisms that helps the soil. 
Sanitation & water consultant in developing countries
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

Dear Professor Ajit,

Thanks so much for your enthusiasm about urine utilization as a fertilizer!  I think it should have huge potential.  Somebody has calculated (I don't remember who) that urine could cover half of the world's fertilizer demand if all the urine was used as a fertilizer.  At the same time, fertilizer production is know to be responsible of a lot of the world's green house gases - in the order of 5%, if I remember correctly.  Just imagine how much green house gases could be saved if urine recycling was taken seriously!

Kind regards,
H-A
Hanns-Andre Pitot
M.Eng. Environmental Pollution Control
presently in Seesen, Germany

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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

Dear NETWAS Foundation,

Thanks for adding this information.  I was actually involved in the promotion of the urine diverting ecosan toilets in Adjumani.  We were able to exceed the 100 toilet threshold, all paid for by the residents themselves, except for the parts used for urine diversion.

How is the situation nowadays? Are the toilets still being used and new ones being built?

Regards, H-A
Hanns-Andre Pitot
M.Eng. Environmental Pollution Control
presently in Seesen, Germany

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  • AjitSeshadri
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  • Marine Chief Engineer by profession (1971- present) and at present Faculty in Marine Engg. Deptt. Vels University, Chennai, India. Also proficient in giving Environmental solutions , Designation- Prof. Ajit Seshadri, Head- Environment, The Vigyan Vijay Foundation, NGO, New Delhi, INDIA , Consultant located at present at Chennai, India
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

Dear Dr. HA Pilot Researcher
Congrats, well done.
It's indeed creditable to use Urine as for Fertilisation of soil and helping plants sp to grow.
We will introduce you to a few Chinese Professors Researchers in this science with applications for more than a decade and use of bio-char also.
Pl keep up the good work. 

.. wll wshs..
Prof Ajit Seshadri
Vels University
Chennai India 
Prof. Ajit Seshadri, Faculty in Marine Engg. Deptt. Vels University, and
Head-Environment , VigyanVijay Foundation, Consultant (Water shed Mngmnt, WWT, WASH, others)Located at present at Chennai, India
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  • netwas
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

In Uganda, NETWAS under the EcosanRes project promoted the Urine Dry Diversion Toilets (UDDT) in West Nile and Rwenzori regions. Here urine was separately being collected and used in gardens. The gardens were looking really well.
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

A note about how I am applying urine:

I am allowing it to age in a sealed container for about 2 weeks. I am then adding about 25 ml of vinegar for 10 l of urine and letting it stand for another day or two.  This is then applied with a watering can at a dilution of 1:2 with water.  Immediately afterwards, I add the same amount of water, so that I get an overall dilution of 1:5.  The water reduces the odor and flushes the urine into the ground.

And about my use of "worms" in the previous post: I was meaning maggots...
Hanns-Andre Pitot
M.Eng. Environmental Pollution Control
presently in Seesen, Germany

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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

Of course, it's winter now, so I cannot show too much of the results of urine applications.

I started out using urine in my garden (a very small one) in Germany after noticing yellowish leaves on the strawberries and currants - see image no 1.  I interpreted this to be a sign of a lack of nitrogen.

Before, I had only used shredded branches and compost as a fertilizer on these berry plants, but apparently, this was lacking nitrogen - I believe the decomposition of the wood-chips must have used up most of the available nitrogen.  So I thought I should try urine.  I am now using 1 liter of urine per square meter in May and in September, the application of shredded branches and compost staying more or less the same.  The plants now are very healthy - see images 2 for the strawberries and 3 for currants.



The ones doing especially well are raspberries - again with the same recipe for the fertilizers - see image 4.  As you can see, the plants are giant, exceeding one and a half meters in height and with fruits easily 2 cm in size. The small stems on the floor are belonging to flowers which are growing in between the raspberries at this location.


Gooseberries, on the other hand, seem to get sick with mildew, when they are fertilized with urine.  I used the same procedure with a red gooseberry plant as with the other berries, until it got heavily sick with mildew.  I looked it up in the literature (Marie-Luise Kreuter: Der Biogarten), where I found it confirmed that gooseberries don't like nitrogen fertilizers.  So, some care has to be taken with urine applications, and I have obviously stopped giving urine to that gooseberry plant - let's see whether it is going to recover.

For apples an pears, I am not applying wood chips since this could offer a hideout for worms during winter.  Instead, I am applying leaves together with some compost on a large tree disk of at least 2 meters in diameter around the trees.  And I am adding about 3,5 liters of urine per tree on these tree disks in March, July and November - see image 5.  The trees are clearly more healthy with the urine, with more and larger fruits.  But the biggest problem remains the worms...


For vegetables, I am still experimenting.  I have started a vegetable bed last year where I have added a lot of compost and applied urine at the rate of 1 liter per square meter twice in the year.  So far, broccoli has responded very well, endive, too; the peas got sick with mildew, but I was able to harvest a little...
Hanns-Andre Pitot
M.Eng. Environmental Pollution Control
presently in Seesen, Germany
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

Thanks very much Andy and Peter for this information!  An interesting arrangement re. the combined application of gray water and urine.  That was my thinking, too, when I suggested this approach for the more populated areas of that country town in Uganda.  Gravity flow is actually an important feature to make it work without much energy input.  It's something that can work in many places of the world!

I'll make a few pics of my applications here in Germany...
Hanns-Andre Pitot
M.Eng. Environmental Pollution Control
presently in Seesen, Germany

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  • AndyWarren
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  • I'm the Managing Director of NatSol Ltd, Composting and Remote Toilet Specialists. We operate almost exclusively in the UK and design and manufacture our own products. These are supplied to sites such as allotments, rural churches, public parks and campsites.
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

Onbehalf of Peter Harper, now retired from his post as Head of Research and Innovation at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Wales:

>The logic was that urine needed diluting and shower-water needed enriching, so combining the two was an attractive solution. Both arose on an upper floor, so we were able to use gravity throughout. Urine was collected via a proprietary Swedish urine-separating toilet. The two streams were led via a standard plastic wastpipe down to a 150 litre plastic tank, mounted on a wooden frame. We just needed a filter for the solid particles in shower water, and the obvious things are cellulosic  materials because they can simply be removed for composting and replaced. I used straw in a simple plastic basket. The liquid -- which I facetiously labelled 'house juice' -- accumulated in a
shallow sump, to allow for mixing, then overflowed into a drip line, just a large-diameter hose-pipe. This ran to manifolds in the garden and was distributed by similar pipes with small holes drilled in them, about 15 cm apart. It was a bit like a drip-irrigation system, but home-made.


I was able to test out the effects of the 'house juice' on various crops, and its ability to accelerate humification of light woody material. It improved yields of bush fruit such as blackcurrants, leafy crops like cabbage and cornsalad, but not lettuce or onions. It accelerated breakdown of privet-hedge-clippings.
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  • AndyWarren
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

I'm sure that's true - about urine encouraging plant growth and the plants providing the humus. After all, animals have been peeing on the ground for millions of years. And, of course, they do so in a distributed way.  So why should it be an issue?

However, humans (correct me if I'm wrong) have a total biomass roughly equivalent to the biomass of all farmed and wild mammals put together. (Cattle are pretty high up there, close to the biomass of humans). So humifying some urine through composting before application to land should be valuable. It also helps to turn carbon 'waste' streams into soil food.

Peter Harper, who did experiments with the use of urine in his garden, is going to post some stuff - or I will post it for him if he can't for whatever reason. Watch this space.

Andy

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  • Useless
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

Actually, urine and other liquid fertilizers do address the 'humus' issue, just in a round about way. Fertilizers promote growth, both above ground and below(roots).  That increase in organic matter both sequesters carbon, and adds to the level of humus over time.
Yes, I like adding urine to high carbon sources such as dead leaves, wood chips, and cardboard, which build up the humus faster, but direct application of urine has a positive impact as well.  Plus, everyone always talks abut dilution, when the real issue is distribution. If I apply undiluted urine over a large enough area, that has a similar effect to applying a diluted portion of urine to a much smaller area. If I fill a two gallon watering container with undiluted urine, I can pour that out over a 10 ft row, a 100 ft row, or over a 100 yd row.  Each of those represent a different application rate - without dilution.  

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