2013-12-02

Co.Exist

These Urinals Turn Pee Into Fertilizer For Local Food

Amsterdam's urine alone can fertilize 10,000 football fields' worth of plants. Drink some water, quick!

Peeing in public isn’t usually a government-sanctioned activity. But a few weeks ago, Dutch officials lined up some not-so-private urinals in an Amsterdam park and invited local men to come and, well, partake. It was all in the name of the environment: Instead of sending urine straight down drains, the local water district wants to turn it into fertilizer for local farms.

Phosphorus extracted from the temporary park urinals will go to a green roof in the city. And today, the water utility will launch a new recovery plant designed to mine the phosphorus out of all of the wastewater in the region. Amsterdam's pee alone can fertilize 10,000 football fields' worth of plants, according to officials.

The idea all began because the phosphorus from urine was causing problems—it forms crystals, which were clogging local pipes. "We thought, if we have to remove it, why not do it in a proper way," said Peer Roojimans, who serves on the board of the water authority. "Phosphorus is needed for survival for everything in life, but it’s a limited product, and the mines are exhausted. Since everyone takes it with us every day—and supplies it to our sewage treatment plant when we go to the toilet—we wanted to develop a device that could reuse it."

After wastewater goes to the new recovery plant, the phosphorus and nitrogen from the urine will be separated, cleaned, and transformed into struvite, a slow-release fertilizer. New Dutch laws allow it to officially be used on farms starting on January 1.

Lest it seem that poo has been left out of the plan, Roojimans points out that the entire wastewater treatment plant for the Amsterdam area—which serves a million people—runs entirely on electricity that is produced from solid waste.

Though some question whether there's a truly a phosphorus shortage in mines, it seems pretty clear that reusing it from waste is a better way to have a sustainable supply. And now Amsterdam residents can be proud to know they're recycling every time they flush.

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7 Comments

  • We have been promoting equality for women in such areas, where women can learn how to pee standing up with our Hollywood-produced, cinema-quality Instructional DVD. Why eliminate half the population - educate your female population so they can contribute as well. I invite the Adele to learn herself and I believe she will be writing a follow-up article!

    -Stacy Kwan Stand2Pee.com

  • Clifton Middleton

    The biologicals will compose and oxidize in the soil or in your compost pile. I add urine to typical compost material. It heats up faster, does a better job and increases the NPK of the finished product. Very good stuff ...

  • Linda Cockburn

    We use our pee and composted poo to fertilise our fruit trees. It seems a terrible waste to pollute water with it, then try and deal with the toxic brew when it could be an answer to some of our finite resource issues.

    We are heading towards a collapse in the food industry, with reports we can only support 300 million to 2 billion people in a post oil world, when we will be unable to either afford or access artificial fertilisers.... start the humanure revolution! (you should see how big your lemons grow). Go for it Amsterdam!

  • AuntyMM

    but putting poop in the water is a really bad idea. the planet has evolved with land animals pooping on land where it composts and fertilizes. putting it in the water breaks the ecological carbon cycle, and requires energy for wastewater treatment and separation that would not be necessary if it went where it belonged, plus which now it ends up getting contaminated with pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. so much for human intelligence.

  • Emily

    Actually, public urinals like the ones you see here are quite common, especially on the weekends and big festival days (so that people don't pee into canals). The "Green Urine" concept is indeed innovative, though.