The first project of the Rich Earth Institute is an experiment in nutrient reclamation, using source-separated urine as a fertilizer (aka “pee-cycling”). Since 2012 we have been collecting urine from over 170 volunteer participants in and around Brattleboro, Vermont. After sanitizing the urine, we apply it to farmland that is producing hay. Throughout the process we collect detailed data on the effect of urine fertilizer on the quantity and quality of the hay harvest and on the properties of the soil.
We chose to focus first on urine because it contains the majority of plant nutrients found in human waste, making it both a valuable fertilizer in an agricultural setting and a significant pollutant in an aquatic environment. Getting urine out of wastewater and into agriculture accomplishes the lion's share of nutrient recycling, without having to contend with the pathogens present in feces, or the accompanying “ick factor.”
This is the first legally authorized and publicly documented community-scale urine reuse project in the United States. Research and field trials with urine fertilizer are underway in many countries throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, but the United States has lagged behind. We hope that our ongoing research and demonstration project will help catalyze additional domestic research and serve as a model for other urine-recycling programs.