Swedish Researchers Really, Really Want Your Urine

Your pee is too valuable to flush down the toilet—it's full of nutrients that can help plants grow.

In an uncharacteristically good turn of events for those of us who clinically cannot stop themselves from purchasing a 472-ounce Diet Coke at the movies, researchers in Sweden may have found a practical way to recycle human urine into fertilizer, according to the journal Nature. 

A team of scientists from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, Sweden, are experimenting with this technique in Gotland, a Swedish island currently dealing with water scarcity. Here's the proposed process: dry the pee into chunks, hammer those chunks into a powder, and shape that powder into fertilizer pellets sized for standard farming equipment. Then, grow barley with it, sell that barley to a brewery to make beer, and voila! The earth can be soaked in pee another day. Endless pee. Pee, sustained.

How pee is turned into fertilizer

To acquire all this pee, the scientists are working with a company that rents out portable toilets. The goal is to wrangle over 70,000 liters of pee across the span of three years. This experiment is part of a worldwide effort at something called "urine diversion," which aims to separate the good stuff from the rest of our sewage.

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According to the pee scientists, pee is full of nutrients, including two common fertilizer components: phosphorus and nitrogen. The benefits include reducing pollution in bodies of water, saving water, and easing the burden on overworked sewer systems, specifically the one in my home.

Of course, to scale up this project would be a huge logistical undertaking, and not just because I'd stand outside the researchers' homes screaming "sperm banks but for pee" and interrupting their REM cycles. But Prithvi Simha, a chemical process engineer at the university and chief technology officer of Sanitation360, the project's spinoff company, says that the goal is to make urine recycling something that's actually practical.

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"The ambition is that everyone, everywhere, does this practice," Simha said.

In the future, will all of us water plants with our pee?

This idea isn't new. The concept of using pee as fertilizer has been around for a while. Plus, earlier research from the University of Michigan suggested that urine that's been stored for 12 to 16 months could potentially be used without running the risk of spreading antibiotic resistance. (Storing it for a while breaks down bacteria DNA in the event that, say, the donor had a urinary tract infection, as all hot and nice people do!!!!).

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I was skeptical at first, but after hearing from these passionate PhD pee wranglers, I am proudly, aggressively in favor of pee plants. In this era of climate change and despair, we need some hopeful recycling news. Remember when that NPR article came out about how plastic recycling is basically a lie? That sucked! What if pee could turn it all around?

What if it's time to put pressure on pee, just like pee has always...put pressure on us? Hmmmm? Makes you think. Or at the very least, makes you glad you're almost done reading this article. I mean, come on. If we use manure as fertilizer, why can't we use human urine?

 

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