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Peecycling for Pasture Health

Urine-diverting demonstration toilets like this one were installed on University of Michigan’s North Campus, along with a lab where the urine is converted to fertilizer. Photo courtesy of EvM-Susana via wikimedia.

Diverting urine away from municipal wastewater treatment plants and recycling the nutrient-rich liquid to make crop fertilizer would result in multiple environmental benefits when used at city scale, according to a new University of Michigan-led study.

Doing a comprehensive analysis of the environmental impacts of urine recycling compared to conventional fertilizer production may seem like an odd topic, but to Gregory Keoleian, Director of the Center for Sustainable Systems a the Univerisity of Michigan, it makes perfect sense. “Both conventional wastewater treatment and fertilizer production are carbon intensive processes said in an interview with Sarah DeWeerdt. “Flushing urine, with its valuable nutrients [nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium] down toilets for processing in energy intensive wastewater treatment plants makes no sense.”

The researchers found that urine diversion and recycling (which they call “peecycling”) can lead to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, freshwater consumption and the potential for fueling algal blooms in lakes and other water bodies. The data they gathered from peecycling pilot projects in Vermont, Virginia and Michigan indicate that the benefits of improved wastewater management and avoiding synthetic fertilizer production far outweigh the costs of urine collection, processing and transport.

None of this means that peecycling is coming soon to a bathroom near you. As you can imagine, changing our existing infrastructure so that we can collect, store and process urine presents many challenges. But it’s a great example of how researchers and engineers are working together to bring us a more sustainable future.

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.

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