Business

As fertiliser shortages persist, peecycling – recycling human urine – is grabbing attention

Business Insider US
A field of sunflowers near Bloemfontein. (Getty)
A field of sunflowers near Bloemfontein. (Getty)
  • Fertiliser shortages caused by the Ukrainian war are driving up global food prices.
  • A researcher in France said urine is a nutrient-rich alternative and less polluting than synthetic fertilisers.
  • A non-profit in the US, the Rich Earth Institute has a flagship urine-recycling initiative in Vermont.
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Researchers say human urine – or peecycling – could be a liquid gold alternative to chemical fertilisers.

Fabien Esculier, a researcher at the OCAPI research program in France, told Euro News that urine is a nutrient-rich alternative filled with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Esculier said human waste is less polluting than synthetic fertilisers, which contain ammonia.

The need to find alternative sources for fertiliser has become urgent as chemical fertiliser shortages from the Ukrainian war threaten countries globally. According to analysts at Rabobank, Russia exports nearly 20% of the world's nitrogen fertilisers and – combined with Belarus – 40% of the world's exported potassium. Because of Western sanctions in response to Russia's actions, many of the world's farmers have been cut off. 

A non-profit in Vermont in the USA, the Rich Earth Institute, has been working on alternative waste management options for over a decade and has a flagship urine-recycling initiative. The Institute has a research division that studies how urine can be used as a fertiliser to grow crops. It also offers community members the chance to rent urine-collecting portable toilets for public events.

In a video produced by researchers at the University of Michigan about peecycling, Abe Noe-Hays, a co-founder of the Institute, said using urine as fertiliser is a better approach in comparison to synthetic fertiliser because it is sustainably produced.

"There's no doubt that urine can be a safe fertiliser for growing any kind of crop," he said.

One area of research the non-profit has been looking into is the effect of pharmaceuticals in urine and whether that would negatively impact crop growth. In a study conducted from 2014 to 2020, the team found that while there are some pharmaceuticals detectable in crop tissue, the levels are extremely small. 

The New York Times reported the organisation collects the urine of around 200 local volunteers to be used for research on a number of farms in the area. 

"We're in a moment where chemical fertiliser has more than doubled in price and is really representing a part of our system that is way out of our control," Noah Hoskins, who uses the urine in hayfields at the Bunker Farm in Dummerston, where he raises various animals such as cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys, told The Times.

He added that he sees "strong results from the urine" and wishes the institute could provide more pee. 

Get the best of our site emailed to you every weekday.

Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.

Rand - Dollar
15.80
+1.1%
Rand - Pound
19.39
+0.0%
Rand - Euro
16.68
-0.1%
Rand - Aus dollar
10.97
+0.0%
Rand - Yen
0.12
-0.0%
Gold
1,827.37
0.0%
Silver
21.15
0.0%
Palladium
1,880.50
0.0%
Platinum
911.50
0.0%
Brent Crude
113.12
+2.7%
Top 40
59,993
+1.6%
All Share
66,349
+1.6%
Resource 10
64,422
-0.2%
Industrial 25
76,590
+2.6%
Financial 15
15,623
+1.9%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo