[permaculture] human urine as fertilizer

Dick Pierce dickpiercedesigns at gmail.com
Fri Mar 6 13:02:58 EST 2009

Hello, Marjory - so glad you asked. I can [almost ] answer your question. My
bible on the subject is "Liquid Gold - The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to
Grow Plants" by my Guru on the subject, Carol Steinfeld. This wonderful book
tells [almost] all in an hour or two of reading. Carol has other books on
urine and other "excreta", is a great speaker, consultant, and distributor
of urine-diverting toilets.

She has 2 simple great quotes in her TOC that say it all for me: "A Resource
in the Wrong Place Pollutes" and "FromPollutant to Fertilizer {Gold]."  Some
stats that almost answer your question: "Every day Americans excrete about
90 million gallons of urine. That day's urine contains an estimated 7
million pounds of nitrogen. By some estimates, that's enough to fertilize up
to 32,000 acres of corn for an entire year. And, over one year, Americans
piss away enough nitrogen to fertilize 12 million acres of corn - about
twice the corn grown in Indiana." She points out that the above urine can
vary widely with the amount of excess protein consumed and the variety and
soil used for the corn.

On pp. 39, she writes: "In a year, the average N. European produces 116
gallons of urine. Many studies put the average daily nitrogen output for a
healthy adult at about 11 grams. The more protein, the more nitrogen
excreted (Ralf Otterpohl, 1998). Two Swedish University studies report that
one N. European adult produces enough nitrogen fertilizer in its urine to
grow 50-100 percent of the food requirement of another adult (Sundberg,
1995, Drangert, 1997." I quote these statistics, so that you will visit
Carol's website, read her books, and attend her classes.

Note the Swedish influence in the above. They seem to have made urine,
urine-diversion [from the waste stream], and urine as fertilizer a national
priority/focus. They are the source of the best simplest urine-diverting
toilets and gadgets. And, without the urine, a composting toilet is a small,
low volume appliance and the waste is easy to handle, compact, with little
odor and stuff to dispose of. Carol has a catalogue on her web site.

The other Guru, who we both know and respect, PC-Teacher Patricia Allison of
Earthaven, NC, always maintained that she used diluted urine as her only
fertilizer on her garden year after year. Her statement, I believe, was that
our urine contains 80% of the mineral value of the food we eat.

I became a real disciple of urine-diverting to fertilizer and compost piles
while teaching on Martha's Vineyard this summer. Their Island Report and now
Comprehensive Island Environmental Plan reports that 80-90% of the nitrate
pollution that severely reduces and threatens their shellfish in their ponds
and tidal pools comes from human urine via island-wide septic systems. (I
was ready to blame industry, but alas, they have none.  I would also blame
the golf courses, but the report exonerates them. It's human pee that's
ruining an industry and threatening species, and septic and sewage systems
do not, or do not do an effective job of, removing nitrates.
I'm now on one of the committees and lobbying for incentives for urine
diverting toilets.

Urine diluted 5-10:1 applied on the garden is great for nitrogen, green
leaves, and vigorous plants. Urine as-is, undiluted is great pured into a
compost pile. The carbon and microbes in the pile or in the ground quickly
takes away any urine odor.

I made an inexpensive, highly functional composting toilet with a diverter.
It's a plywood box with a seat/lid and a vent pipe, with a 6 gal.square
bucket inside - just like most "field or PC-class" composting toilets. But I
found a rectangular-shaped gas-can funnel at the hardware store - attached
it to the front of the square bucket; pushed a 1" plastic hose on to the
exit of the funnel; and ran the hose to a 5 gal plastic jug/gas can, which
was *downhill *from the funnel. The urine and the smell go into the gas can,
and only the poop and a small amount of sawdust go into the bucket. It, the
poop, is a small amount and gets smaller as it drys/cakes, building up very
slowly, almost odorless, and is easy/not sloppy to dispose of. I'll send you
the plan if you'll send me an email, but I'd rather you check out Carol's
website first.

Again, thanks for the question, and the excuse. We have a national and
world-wide human problem in "civilized" societies - urine as a huge nitrate
polluter that we concentrate and force into our ground water. It is
simultaneously a great resource as a nitrogen fertilizer if we can get it to
the right place, in the right way. The above are also waterless toilets - we
are down to 1.6 gal/flush, but wouldn't zero gpf be better? It appears that
municipal sewage plants do not remove [much] nitrogen - thus its entry into
groundwater at high/toxic levels. As in so many PC situations - the problem
is an opportunity.

Another other solution is, of course, aerobic (vs septic and anaerobic)
systems like the Watson Wick that allow plants to take up and transpire the
water and use the nitrates  (vs forcing it into water table). See Tom
Watson, Watson Wick, on Google - and Kirby Fry here in C-TX.

Happy spring and best to you all

Dick Pierce

On Thu, Mar 5, 2009 at 1:23 PM, Marjory <forestgarden at gvtc.com> wrote:

> Hello Everyone,
> A while back I saw a reference to a study that showed that the urine
> produced by one person contained enough nitrogen to fertilize the
> vegetable plants necessary to feed that person.
> Does anyone have a copy of that study?
> Thanks
> marjory
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DickPierceDesigns at gmail.com
SE-NE (summer) & Austin, TX (winter) cell- 512-992-8858

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