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Ask Umbra: Can I Pee in My Compost Pile?

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Q.Dear Umbra,

I've always enjoyed relieving myself out-of-doors as a way to reduce my water usage, but I recently read that certain chemicals that we cannot metabolize (caffeine, for example) can be pollutants but get removed in the water treatment process. As a coffee addict, I don't want to be sending excess caffeine into Puget Sound to get the salmon and orcas all hopped up, but I do want to flush less. Is it safe to urinate in the compost pile to enrich its nitrogen content, or should I use the toilet to make sure I'm not polluting the water?

Pondering Ethical Excretion Seattle, Wash.


A. Dearest PEE,

Until your letter arrived, I hadn't realized that this column has been experiencing a bit of a dry spell. Your letter reminded me of the good old days, when my inbox was positively overflowing with pee-related queries.

You are right that our liquid excretions can contain pollutants. These include many residues of our modern life, from caffeine to pharmaceuticals to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's RoundUp herbicide [PDF]. That is why we generally send our urine down the pipes into a septic tank or to a wastewater treatment plant.   


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