On this hot summer afternoon outside Brattleboro Vermont, farmer Dean Hamilton has fired up his tractor and is fertilizing his hay filled with urine. It takes a bit of time to get used to the idea, says environmental engineer Nancy Love. I’ve been surprised at how many people actually get beyond the gauge factor pretty quickly and are willing to listen. The noNPRofit Rich Earth Institute is working with Love and her team with support from the National Science Foundation. They are fine-tuning new methods to recycle urine into fertilizer.

There’s a great quote by Buckminster Fuller about how pollutio

n is nothing but the resources that we’re not harvesting and that we allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant to their value. Harvesting the resource of urine which is after all full of the same nutrients as chemical fertilizer will fix two problems at once: Eliminate waste and create a natural fertilizer. The Rich Earth Institute has been using urine as fertilizer since 2012. They collect about 26,000 liters a year thanks to a loyal group of dedicated donors. We now have people who have some source separating toilets in their homes. We also have people who have 55-gallon barrels or they collect, and then we transport to our farms, and we’ve also got a larger urine depot. They pasteurize the urine to kill any microbes and then it’s applied directly onto hay fields. Now that they’ve partnered with the University of Michigan, Love says they’re looking to go to the next level.

There are three things we really are trying to do with the urine. And this kind of next phase, we’re trying to concentrate it. We’re trying to apply technologies to reduce odor, and we’re trying to deal with the trace contaminants like the pharmaceuticals. Dealing with pharmaceuticals is an important issue. Heating up urine kills germs, but has no effect on chemicals like drugs that pass through our bodies. We know pharmaceuticals are a problem for aquatic organisms and water systems. It’s debatable about the impact on human health at very very low levels. Independent of that, I think most people would prefer that they not be in there. They’re food.

For Love, this is all about redesigning our waste water infrastructure for the 21st century. Too many nutrients in the water leads to poor water quality by causing hazardous algal blooms. Our water emissions are going into very sensitive water bodies that are vulnerable to these nutrient loads. We need to change that dynamic and if we can capture them and put them to a beneficial use, that’s what they’re trying to do. Their efforts could make agriculture greener and our waterways cleaner.

Faith Lapidus VOA news.





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