The war in Ukraine has disrupted the supply chain for a wide range of products, but "peecyclers" have found a way around the associated shortage of fertilizer. By gathering their urine, these people can cook up a potent mixture of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium which has been found to boost plant growth.
Sanitized human urine (nicknamed Oga) was employed in a study in the Republic of the Niger to see if and how it might influence the growth of pearl millet grain. Female farmers in the region tend to have chemically infertile farmland that’s a long way from their home, so sourcing an effective and readily available fertilizer for these farms is of particular importance.
Using Oga revealed a yield increase of around a third, demonstrating that human urine was indeed an effective alternative treatment for plants, and best of all is something that humans are creating for free all across the globe. In the context of warfare, this represents a crucial detail, as in the face of forecasted food shortages farmers may need to look closer to home for fertilizers – and what could be closer than our own bladders?
Peecyclers are already promoting this approach in parts of the globe, including the Rich Earth Institute whose website lists some pretty compelling arguments for the use of human pee in agriculture rather than dumping it elsewhere in the environment.
They say that humans produce 125 gallons of urine per year. If employed in agriculture, this could help to grow 320 pounds of wheat, and in turn, reduce the level of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that currently impairs more than 15,000 waterbodies in the US. We also use up 1.2 trillion gallons of drinkable water flushing toilets each year, but could stand to save 4,000 gallons of the stuff if we instead redirected our urine to farms.
The climate crisis also gives us food for thought when it comes to growing food with urine, as we face an increasing need to be resourceful with our use of water. California’s agricultural belt was denied water stocks by the federal government back in February due to water shortages despite producing roughly a quarter of the nation’s food.
While manure has long been used as an all-natural fertilizer, Reuters recently reported that in parts of America there simply isn’t enough poop to go around. Urine can actually provide more in the way of organic fertilizer compared to its solid counterpart and comes with fewer pathogens.
As for what it’s like actually like being a peecycler, the instructions for donating pee in Vermont seem simple enough. Using a bit of kit made up of a combined ping pong ball, cubie, and funnel, people can collect their urine at home, fragrance-free, before dropping it off at a Urine Depot for processing.
And as peecycler Kate Lucy told the New York Times, it soon begins to feel strange that we ever poured the liquid gold away. “We make this amazing fertilizer with our bodies, and then we flush it away with gallons of another precious resource,” she said. “That’s really wild to think about.”