Every day I let my dog out to the backyard. He does an entire lap around the yard while marking his territory. One time I noticed that while doing his little routine, he would always piss on this particular plant like if it were a fire hydrant or something. At that time I thought he would eventually kill the plant, I mean its piss he is pouring on it right? However, to my amazement the plant survived after two full weeks of this special treatment. Not only did it survive, it actually flourished more than some of the other plants surrounding it. Since my dogs urine had such effects on the plant, I wondered if my own would provide the same results. But instead of acting like a dog and soiling my own yard, I will explore the pros and cons of using human urine as a fertilizer. The first step in finding whether human urine can be used, as a fertilizer is understanding how we produce urine itself. In humans, soluble wastes are excreted primarily by the urinary system as urine. The urinary system consists of the kidneys, ureters, urinary bladder, and urethra. The kidneys extract the soluble wastes from the bloodstream, as well as excess water, sugars, and a variety of other organic compounds.
This mixture of substances then flows from the kidney through the ureter, bladder, and finally the urethra before passing from the body (Karak and Bhattacharyya 401). Now that we have a concept of how urine is made, our next step in determining whether urine can be used is as a fertilizer is learning what urine is made of. To start, urine is principally water. It also contains an assortment of inorganic salts and organic compounds, including proteins and hormones. Though urine varies in appearance, normal urine is a transparent solution ranging from colorless to amber but is usually a pale yellow. Normal human urine is odorless, but if left in the open for some time it changes to a distinct ammonia smell. Some of the main components of urine are ions like sodium, chloride, potassium, and nitrogen. Ions are chemical substances that are expelled from the body through urine because they are in excess (“Fertilizing”). And it just so happens to be that nitrogen in the soil is essential to plant growth. So it is evident that urine indeed can be beneficial to plants, but are there any drawbacks?
One of the first challenges of using human urine as a fertilizer is its collection and separation. You would think it is easy to produce urine, but for large scale farming a large population is required to produce enough urine. This may not sound like much of a problem, but using human urine commercially as a fertilizer is more complicated than just relieving yourself on a plant. First, we need to use separating toilets. These toilets have been elaborated to separate the human urine from the feces using two bowls, the front bowl collect the urine and the rear bowl collects the feces. Then, the urine passes through a separate pipe system to a holding tank. After this, the urine is collected and removed by a tank truck or suction truck.
Finally, the urine is stored separately in storage tanks to ensure that it is sanitized before being applied (Johansson and Wijkmark 17, 18). The time of storage is controversial; some experts said that the urine needs one month to settle others said that the time needed is 6 months until it can be applied in the farms. Also the climate plays create a challenge, this is because pathogens seem to die slower in colder environments, meaning studies on how climate affects urine must be made. As if this weren’t enough, the kind of soil also it’s important (Heinonen-Tanski, et al. 216). More studies must investigate better ways to exploit this new fertilizer so we can take the fullest advantage of it.
Another of the most common concerns with urine as a fertilizer is whether it has health risk or not. For the most part, in healthy populations, human urine is almost always sterile. This means it is free of any pathogens and safe for humans. In the rare cases when it isn’t sterile, urine is generally still fine for personal use, or can be stored for several months to minimize pathogen risk. The most important element in the safe use of urine is to avoid fecal contamination, while pee is almost always sterile; feces contain dangerous pathogens that can affect crops (“Fertilizing”). Cucumbers were thought be relatively sensitive to microbial contamination; therefore they were used to test the contamination of microorganisms in urine. The results show that cucumbers grown with urine as fertilizer had no microorganisms, and the hygienic quality of urine was then approved (Heinonen-Tanski, et al. 216).
This shows that the main challenge of health risks presented by urine is really not a real threat if treated properly. After having explored the challenges and concerns of using human urine as fertilizer, we have found that these challenges aren’t really too complex, first and most important is to avoid fecal contamination because it can affect the crops and second, the process of collecting and separating the human urine is not to complex; we only have to change the culture of people for the proper use of the separating toilets and whole system of collection. Now is time to explore the benefits and who can eventually benefit from using human urine as a fertilizer. Actually, everyone could potentially benefit from the proper use of urine as fertilizer. Urine typically contains more than 50% of the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium content of sewage. Urine is being widely considered as good as or better than commercially available chemical fertilizers because of its high percentage of nitrogen present in its composition.
This type of fertilizer would be a good solution for third world countries and those that do not have an abundant supply of freshwater. Developing countries could save on the costs of food production while increasing yield. This means that there will be an economic advantage for the poor regions of our world like Africa, where the price of chemical and mineral fertilizers is very high. One of the most important benefits of using human urine as a fertilizer are the agricultural advantages. Human urine provides a healthy abundance of nitrogen for plants, so it will increase the food production and the plants will growth better (“Fertilizing”). With this agricultural development in the food production, we will be able to fight against the world hunger, one of the major problems faced by the world. In addition, human urine lowers the amount of microorganisms that contaminate crops, and decreases insect damage (Akpan-Idiok, Udo, and Braide 19). So we can use human urine as a pesticide. So there is another economic benefits, people will not need to buy pesticide for their crops once they begin using human urine as fertilizer, because the urine will serve as a pesticide as well.
Another benefit is the environmental impact; environmental pollution is another of the major problems faced by the world. A large contributor to the pollution is the extensive use of chemicals and fertilizers in farming and agriculture. Many methods are being implemented to replace the hazardous fertilizers with environmentally friendly ones. Human urine can provide a successful alternative to the problem. When urine was compared to traditional mineral fertilizers, the results show that there was a considerably higher potential contribution to pollution for the mineral fertilizer. Urine provided a reduction of nitrogen and phosphorous in the water. This reduction can lead to a sustainment in oxygen and an increase water quality for fish and other animals including humans (Johansson, Wijkmark 35). This leads to a decrease in greenhouse gases, which in turn can help protect the ozone layer.
By the end of my search, I see that like everything in life, urine as a fertilizer has its pros and cons. However, I believe that it provides many more advantages, making it a prime source of future investment and research. Since it is still a rather new innovation the mass use of urine as a fertilizer is yet to be achieved. But in a world where pollution is a great threat to our survival urine can prove to be a great help in the farming of our crops. Since urine proves to be as effective a fertilizer as any of the chemically produced ones, but without many of the environmentally damaging disadvantages, it can prove to be a great solution. The only thing left is to let technology advance and develop this great innovation, and soon we all could be part of the production of our crops without even knowing it.
Akpan-Idiok, Ackley U., Idorenyin Asukwo Udo, and Ekanem Ikpi Braide. “ The Use of Human Urine as an Organic Fertilizer in the Production of Okra (Abelmoschus Esculentus) in South Eastern Nigeria.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling 62 (2012): 14-20. ScienceDirect. Web. 11 Sept. 2012 “Fertilizing with Human Urine.” Goveganic.net. Veganic Agriculture Network, 9 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2012. Heinonen-Tanski, Helvi, Annalena Sjöblom, Helena Fabritius, and Päivi Karinen. “Pure Human Urine is a Good Fertilizer for Cucumbers.” Bioresource Technology 98 (2007): 214-217. ScienceDirect. Web. 12 Sept. 2012 Johansson, Mats, and Jan Wijkmark. “Urine Separation.” Swedenviro.se. Stockholm Water Company, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2012. Tanmoy Karak, and Pradip Bhattacharyya. “Human Urine as a Source of Alternative Natural Fertilizer in Agriculture; A Flight of Fancy or an Achievable Reality.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling 55 (2011): 400-408. Web. 14 Sept. 2012