Vermont farm fertilizes with human urine

It sees unorthodox but the Rich Earth Institute have been pasteurizing urine. Rich Earth institute has been around for decades and they have a full suite of pra
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 8:24 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 28, 2022 at 8:30 AM EDT
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BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (WCAX) - It may seem unorthodox, but the Rich Earth Institute has been pasteurizing urine for use as fertilizer.

The Rich Earth Institute has been around for decades and they have a full suite of practices from research, education and tech innovation to make this happen.

The head of the Community Scale Urine Recycling Program, Arthur Davis, says using pasteurized urine as fertilizer isn’t as out there as it first sounds.

They collect urine from about 200 participants in two ways. The first is voluntary collection from people that contribute to the Rich Earth Institute through a 5-gallon bucket dropped off at a urine depot near downtown. The other means is through more permanent infrastructure like a special toilet that separates urine out so Davis could come and collect it.

After it is collected, it’s processed. Davis says a 90-degree Celsius pasteurization takes out any pathogens the urine could have. But it begs the question, why?

According to Davis, urine makes up about 80% of wastewater’s nitrogen and just under 70% of its phosphorus but is only 2% of wastewater’s volume. Nitrogen and phosphorus are two common nutrients in synthetic fertilizers.

“It’s a great place to take a very small amount of volume and get most of the nutrients,” Davis explained.

In turn, this also keeps the nutrients out of waterways and completes a full nutrient-closed loop.

“We can use those nutrients right to put them in a place where they are really useful and where we want to put nutrients such as agriculture,” said Davis.

The application of the urine fertilizer on the three farms they work with regularly is the same as any fertilizer, and farmers are still required to follow their nutrient management plans.

Davis says once folks get past the initial ick factor, the cycle they look to achieve doesn’t seem so out of reach.

“Maybe they don’t want to be hands-on with it, they understand the why and see the reasons behind it,” said Davis.

Davis also says another benefit is keeping the nutrients local, so instead of having to ship nutrients into the area, these stay local and follow that natural cycle, hopefully meaning a healthier ecosystem.

Davis says this isn’t their idea, this is something companies are doing globally, but they are excited to be pioneering it in the Green Mountain State.

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