Liquid Gold! How Our Urine Can Help Save the Planet, Reduce Poverty and Feed the World

As a registered nurse the topic of poo and pee is never far from my mind. Generally speaking I’m more interested in how much, what it looks like and whether it smells ‘normal.’ Even as a child I was curious about effluent, listening with interest as our tour guide explained the ins and outs of treating human waste during a field trip to a sewerage treatment plant. I also wondered about how past and present civilisations dealt with their waste. I marveled at the advanced engineering of ancient Mesopotamian, Mayan and Roman plumbing and was horrified by stories of the European Middle Ages where waste was thrown into the streets and French courtiers defecated behind pillars and in niches of the palaces.

The older I got, the more concerned about the health and environmental implications of waste management I became. Water and sanitation were important subjects in my international development and primary health care courses at uni. Human waste was viewed as a problem, that caused devastating illness and misery when it wasn’t dealt with and ‘sanitised.’ These days, the more I learn about permaculture, sustainable systems and gardening, the more I realise that our poo and pee are a valuable resource.

In a recent talk that I attended at the 2011 TEDx Canberra, Nick Ritar from Milkwood Permaculture highlighted the importance of human waste in sustainable systems and the benefit of using the waste as fertiliser for food production. Watch his amusing presentation below.

An article I read today went even further and suggested that using urine as fertiliser could pull millions of poor farmers out of their debt cycle by decreasing their need for expensive chemical inputs, decreasing the cost of dealing with waste water and increasing their crop yields. Read article Urine: Closing the NPK Loop for more info.

I have always enjoyed going to the toilet ‘in nature’ and it is a great epiphany to realise just how precious and good for said nature my smelly waste is. However, I don’t think my neighbours would appreciate glimpses of me perching precariously on my pots no matter how much I explained that the lemons needed a pick me up. Neither would they appreciate the smells, its bad enough with a big dog in a small yard and my do his poos smell!

Nick has suggested using urinals and pouring the offending liquid innocuously into watering cans. It is a good short term solution but one I haven’t attempted yet, although my apple trees are looking a bit strung out and in need of something. In the meantime I enviously follow Nick’s waste adventures on his Milkwood permaculture farm and dream of a time when I have my own composting toilets and closed loop waste-to-food systems.

Charlie - guilty as charged!

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