Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

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  • HAPitot
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  • Environmental engineer with a passion for low cost and resource recovery issues in sanitation
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

Hello Andy,

I completely agree with your thinking.  Medicines are a concern in the aquatic environment, since they can pass through waste water treatment plants.  But in case of an application on land, these should be quickly degraded by the soil microbes.  Most medicines are organic in nature, so they should be relatively easily degradable by microorganisms.

Regards, H-A
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?

Hi Everybody,

I haven't been following posts for a while but have just spotted this one. I'm managing director of NatSol Ltd ( natsol.co.uk ). We supply toilets for remote locations (i.e. remote from mains sewage which can sometimes be on inner city allotments where it is more expensive to connect to mains than to install a stand alone toilet). Most of our toilets are urine separating composting toilets where the compost is likely to get used on site - though not for crops where the edible part is in contact with the ground. We also have a non-urine separating pump out toilet for busy public sites.

A number of our composting toilet customers have wanted to collect and use the urine rather than send it to a soakaway. This is easily done but in every case so far the Soil Association has said no. The customers who want to do this are almost always seeking organic certification as well. I think there is currently one customer we know of who is not seeking SA approval and is planning on doing this.

The Soil Association is concerned about medications present in urine (including the contraceptive pill), GM chemicals (apparently) and possibly other un-natural constituents of human urine.

My own view (though I am not a biologist) is that these are small risks in comparision to the benefits of on-site use of urine as a fertisliser. Maybe they feel that if they allow that kind of use it may be the thin end of the wedge.

Kind regards, Andy
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  • ProdriguezAT
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

Hello Professor Ajit Seshadri

I appreciate your comment. It is true that to work on these issues, we must first overcome several cultural barriers. For this it would help us to remember that ancient cultures had different management of our own waste. In this part of the world, that is, in Latin America, we have a very interesting experience called “terra preta” specifically in the Amazon region. I share with you a document that, if you don't already know it, might be of interest to you.

I also found this video that I would like to share with you: 
 

Greetings!

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

Hi Tore!

Thanks for your comment. 

We invite you to review this short systematization of a project for the differentiated collection of urine and feces to convert them into compost and solid fertilizer.

Greetings!
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  • ProdriguezAT
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

Hi Dave,

Thank you for the document you shared and your reflections on it. Vuna's document is really interesting and has very useful information to understand the technical, service management, social and economic dimensions related to this line of sanitation with a circular approach. Thanks for sharing this information.
 
Aguatuya,the organization where I work, has an interesting experience with the company EPSAS, the water and sanitation service provider for the city of La Paz, in Bolivia. This company provides the urine and feces collection service (separately) from houses that have dry toilets. Obviously, this is a pilot project and the service has not become economically sustainable by itself, but it is one more way in which the service provider serves a population that is not connected to the sewer network. To learn more about this experience, you can watch this video with automatically generated English subtitles.

Thinking about this, I was left with doubts about the viability of this type of large-scale venture and I searched the web a little to see if there was any company that could be self-sustainable with the provision of the service and I didn't find anything conclusive... Perhaps the closest thing is this experience that I share in the following link.
 
While this startup is just starting out and running on external funding, let's keep our fingers crossed that it does well! In this way, these experiences that can be extremely beneficial for humanity will discover the means by which to be sustainable and attractive as an enterprise.
 
Kind regards, 
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  • Dave
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

Vuna's Valorisation of Urine Nutrients,  Promoting Sanitation & Nutrient Recovery through Urine Separation, Final Project Report 2015 is attached.

Pages 33 to 35 deal with the business case for urine valorisation (as opposed to the technical and health aspects).  At the time it was concluded that the cost of transport and treatment of urine was 10 to 40 times greater than the retail value of the NPK in the urine.  The report does note, however, that niche markets for organic fertilisers do realise much higher values for NPK than the going rate for mass produced fertilisers.

Barring some revolutionary breakthrough in transport and treatment, the logical conclusion is that the only practical way to realise the value in urine is at the point of generation, where the labour cost for collection,  treatment and application may be free or close to free.  In other words, if you practice urine separation and use that urine to fertilise your own crops or garden using your own labour in your spare time, that makes sense.  If you have to use time that can more productively be used doing something else, then the case is marginal.  If you have to transport the urine somewhere else for treatment, and then the product has to be further transported, stored and marketed, the whole process is unlikely to be economically viable.

If anyone knows of any large scale (i.e. beyond household scale) urine valorisation undertaking anywhere in the world which has proven economically sustainable (i.e. truly "circular" or "closed loop") without external funding, please share the details.
Regards

Dave

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  • Tore
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  • worked in sanitation for most of my life. taught plumbing. have plumbing and builders license, certified inspector in all facets of construction, PhD in public administration & have taught construction management in university, traveled numerous countries, Interest UDDT and sanitation & clean water
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

Urine is sterile or almost sterile and can be quickly used for fertilizer.  It has all the macro-nutrients that the plants need,  The fecal matter needs time and elevated temperatures to destroy bacteria, viruses, and helminthes.
Sanitation & water consultant in developing countries
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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 Researcher 
Urine is very commonly used
Fecal Sludge composted is used also
Both these have their own weak points, culturally Etc
But once this bar is crossed,  Communities  apply due safeguard and use the resources for good for local agriculture 
Best wishes 

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

Dear Professor Ajit Seshadri
 
Thank you very much for your information and contact to learn more about Professor Xianayang's work and detailed urine systems for agricultural use.

I will share your information with professionals who are currently working on the urine plant that I mentioned in my first post.
 
Kind regards,
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  • ProdriguezAT
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Re: Can we recycle human urine to close the nutrient cycle?

DearSusanna,
 
Thank you very much for your contribution. I checked the page you shared and the Vuna Nexus experience is inspiring.
 
It isimportant to enter into a circular logic where it is possible to convert “problems” into “potentialities”, as in the case of urine in this project. In this sense, implementing decentralized sanitation solutions that allow us to close the cycle of water and nutrients so that they can be used in the same local environment in which they are produced, is a key aspect to reduce the negative impact of humanity on the environment and become in tune with the circularity of nature.
 
Thanks for sharing this experience.
 
Kind regards,
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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 Researcher

Pl contact with the below mentioned for URINE R&D
and usage in communities 
Prof Chen Xiangyanp
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Thanks and Regards

Prof Ajit Seshadri 
The Vigyan Vijay Foundation 
www.vigyanvijay.org 
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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  • 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 Researcher
One Chinese professor has researched and developed detailed urine systems for agri use
Prof XIANAYANG
I have his details can give on my email 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
Pl contact me for details

Thanks and Regards 
Prof Ajit Seshadri 
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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