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Wish You Could Fertilize Crops with Pee? Urine Luck

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"When are you going to start bringing pee out to the farm?" Jay Bailey, a local farmer, asked Abe Noe-Hays when they ran into each other at the hardware store in Battleboro, Vt. "Um, how about now?

Noe-Hays had just teamed up with Kim Nace to form the Rich Earth Institute, an organization that separates out pee to use as fertilizer for local farms -  "peecycling" to those in the know. All they needed was a test field. "[Using urine as fertilizer] is such low-hanging fruit in terms of sustainability," Nace says. "There's so much energy wasted at fertilizer plants and water treatment plants. It's kind of a no-brainer."

Now they're two years into running the first permitted, community-scale urine recycling program in the country. 175 volunteers collect their urine in five-gallon jugs and drop it off at a "urine depot" in Nace's front yard. From there, Brattleboro Department of Public Works septic haulers take it to Bailey's farm, where it's pasteurized and sprinkled on hay fields. In 2012 they collected 600 gallons, this summer they're expecting to top 6,000.    

Their desire to start peecycling was two-fold: They saw unnecessary chemical fertilizer being created, and they saw energy and water being wasted at water treatment to scrub those same chemicals out of the water. Using urine as a fertilizer eliminated both of those problems and closed the loop between consumption and waste: You pee out the same nutrients you take in when you eat. It also helps that urine works really well as a fertilizer. "It's an easy point of entry for recycling human waste without violating too many taboos, and it has most of the nutrients; 85 percent of good stuff is in the urine," Noe-Hays says.

The good stuff is nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Those same substances that comprise chemical fertilizer are secreted in your urine, because they're in all the foods you eat. Because they're basic elements, your body doesn't break them down, so they get flushed out through your kidneys and redeposited in your toilet - or in a jug bound for Bailey's farm.     


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