Pee-cycling goes to war

With lessons for us all:

Here’s much of the article:

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — When Kate Lucy saw a poster in town inviting people to learn about something known as peecycling, she was mystified. “Why would someone pee in a jug and save it?” she wondered. “It sounds like such a wacky idea.”

She had to work the evening of the information session, so she sent her husband, Jon Sellers, to assuage her curiosity. He came home with a jug and funnel.

Human urine, Mr. Sellers learned that night seven years ago, is full of the same nutrients that plants need to flourish. It has a lot more, in fact, than Number Two, with almost none of the pathogens. Farmers typically apply those nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — to crops in the form of chemical fertilizers. But that comes with a high environmental cost from fossil fuels and mining.

The local nonprofit group that ran the session, the Rich Earth Institute, was working on a more sustainable approach: Plants feed us, we feed them.

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Efforts like these are increasingly urgent, experts say. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has worsened a worldwide fertilizer shortage that’s driving farmers to desperation and threatening food supplies. Scientists also warn that feeding a growing global population in a world of climate change will only get more difficult.

Now, more than a thousand gallons of donated urine later, Ms. Lucy and her husband are part of a global movement that seeks to address a slew of challenges — including food security, water scarcity and inadequate sanitation — by not wasting our waste.

At first, collecting their urine in a jug was “a little sloshy,” Ms. Lucy said. But she was a nurse and he was a preschool teacher; pee didn’t scare them. They went from dropping off a couple of containers every week or so at an organizer’s home to installing large tanks at their own house that get professionally pumped out.

Kate Lucy and Jon Sellers at home with their children. At first, collecting urine was “a little sloshy,” Ms. Lucy said.Credit…John Tully for The New York Times

Arthur Davis, a researcher and program director at the Rich Earth Institute, prepared a urine collection truck for its rounds in May.Credit…John Tully for The New York Times

Now, Ms. Lucy feels a pang of regret when she uses a regular toilet. “We make this amazing fertilizer with our bodies, and then we flush it away with gallons of another precious resource,” Ms. Lucy said. “That’s really wild to think about.”

Toilets, in fact, are by far the largest source of water use inside homes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Wiser management could save vast amounts of water, an urgent need as climate change worsens drought in places like the American West.

It could also help with another profound problem: Inadequate sanitation systems — including leaky septic tanks and aging wastewater infrastructure — overload rivers, lakes and coastal waters with nutrients from urine. Runoff from chemical fertilizer makes it worse. The result is algal blooms that trigger mass die offs of animals and other plants.

In one dramatic example, manatees in the Indian River Lagoon in Florida are starving to death after sewage-fueled algal blooms destroyed the sea grass they depend on.

“The urban environments and aquatic environments become hideously polluted while the rural environments are depleted of what they need,” said Rebecca Nelson, a professor of plant science and global development at Cornell University.

Beyond the practical benefits of turning urine into fertilizer, some are also drawn to a transformative idea behind the endeavor. By reusing something once flushed away, they say, they are taking a revolutionary step toward tackling the biodiversity and climate crises: Moving away from a system that constantly extracts and discards, toward a more circular economy that reuses and recycles in a continuous loop.

Chemical fertilizer is far from sustainable. The commercial production of ammonia, which is mainly used for fertilizer, uses fossil fuels in two ways. First, as the source of hydrogen, which is needed for the chemical process that converts nitrogen from the air into ammonia, and second as fuel to generate the intense heat required. By one estimate, ammonia manufacturing contributes 1 to 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Phosphorus, another key nutrient, is mined from rock, with an ever dwindling supply.

Across the Atlantic, in rural Niger, another study of urine fertilization was designed to address a more local problem: How could female farmers increase poor crop yields? Often relegated to the fields farthest from town, the women struggled to find or transport enough animal manure to replenish their soils. Chemical fertilizer was far too expensive.

A team including Aminou Ali, director of the Federation of Maradi Farmers’ Unions in south-central Niger, guessed that the comparatively fertile fields closer to people’s homes were getting a boost from people relieving themselves outside. They consulted with medical doctors and religious leaders about whether it would be OK to try fertilizing with urine, and got a green light.

“So we said, let us test that hypothesis,” Mr. Ali recalled.

It took some convincing, but the first year, 2013, they had 27 volunteers who collected urine in jugs and applied it to plants along with animal manure; no one was willing to risk their harvest on pee alone.

A program in southern Niger began as a way to help female farmers who could not afford chemical fertilizer.Credit…Will Miller/McKnight Collaborative Crop Research Program

Researchers found that urine, either with animal manure or alone, increased yields of some crops by about 30 percent.Credit…Will Miller/McKnight Collaborative Crop Research Program

“The results we got were very fantastic,” Mr. Ali said. The next year, about 100 more women were fertilizing with it, then 1,000. His team’s research ultimately found that urine, either with animal manure or alone, increased yields of pearl millet, the staple crop, by about 30 percent. That could mean more food for a family, or the ability to sell their surplus at market and get cash for other necessities.


It’s a good idea. More so for individual use on your own garden. For commercial farmers of corn, the biggest need in the US, it’s a drop in the bucket, a very big bucket. If sewage water from municipal systems were used the bucket starts to fill up. But sewage comes with other issues.


Recycling sewage for water and many other things is the future. Several U.S. counties already do. It’s ignorant not to.


What about all the prescription ( and other) drugs people excrete in their urine? Wouldn’t salt build up pretty quickly as well? I have been known to pee in my compost tea, but not every batch. D


There is something worth bringing up about waste recycling and why I don’t apply it to my fields. The farmers in my area frequently apply treated solids to grain fields intended for livestock. I’m against it because of how it’s done is deceptive. Someone could call that organic. It’s not just prescriptions in that sludge it’s waste water treatment solids like grease, oil, paint, chemicals etc… They all go in the same pond and are applied to fields. Back to the problem let’s say the lead and other heavy metals is elevated on a specific batch and an 80 year old immuno compromised individual on dialysis who is diabetic or worse is ingesting those organic salad greens it’s a life threatening problem. If it’s done properly it’s great but its not. What happens to that fabuloso, oil soap, laundry detergent, drano clog remover, water base paint brush clean out water, dishwashing liquid etc. ? At the time when i brought this up they said what would you have us do with all the printers ink being washed from the towells? We on this forum know it doesn’t belong in our food it was full of carcenogins like paint thinner. Years later now we don’t use much printer ink anymore. Mechanics use shop towels which have solvents, transmission fluid, oil, etc. On them which are washed in a local commercial laundry then that waste water goes in with the other sludge. If we are going to live on this planet it would be best to find better ways to do it. The pee-cycling I think is fantastic. Let me tell you this if we are using our gray water on our garden and I think we should it won’t have those same things in it. When I was a kid trash was paper, glass. Cardboard, metal, very little plastic. In the future we need to flip back admit we were wrong on excessive amounts of non degradeable plastic. We need to stop saying we are going to recycle things we can’t recycle like certain plastics. Those oil wastes etc. from processes have a way of migrating to our water supply.


Those solids can be used for other purposes however. On one of our abandoned mine drainage projects in north central Pennsylvania, part of the project was to place these solids on the land. This was multiple acres using a skid loader. That day my coworker and I almost quit because we didn’t have an enclosed cab on our machine and we knew exactly what we were covered in by the end of the day, even if it had been composted.

However, it did a PHENOMENAL JOB of getting things to grow on a barren wasteland that was previously ~3 pH and covered in a crust of heavy metals with barely anything growing. Nobody is eating those plants though.



  1. Salts and impurities. Well, I would imagine the impact of prescription drugs and stuff is small enough to not matter in most cases, but if you just drank six beers and peed, would the alcohol in the urine be a problem?

  2. Any fundamental difference between male or female urine? Kids or adults? I can more easily convince my two sons to pee in the garden than to have my wife squat down and collect hers.

  3. Pure or dilute?



You would think that on prescriptions but it’s not like you think. Let me give you a few scenarios with big problems tied to them. A hospital covers a small amount of space like a nursing home but these places everyday are flushing bottles of prescriptions. Let’s talk about a dangerous drug like oxicodone we don’t want on the streets. Let’s say 300 patients are taking it today and we discharge 297 each having on average 20 pills left that are flushed for the medication change to something less addictive. The initial prescription is withdrawn from a machine called a pixus but there is no deposit. The procedure if we are health care workers is to go dump the dope down the toilet. The two workers must watch each other while doing it. One of my best friends years ago was a trauma nurse. Nursing homes are slightly different the drugs are kept in medical carts but the procedure is the same if medications change etc. The old ones go down the toilet. Now we go hit the hospital lawn around the facilities with some weed killer, stump killer, a chigger, tick, flea etc. killer for the lawn. The facilities laundry uses borox in large quantities in the laundry to remove odor and bleach lots of bleach. Floors are scrubbed with ammonia and fabulosa mix then water dumped down the drain. Pee-cycling I believe can safely be done on a small level but I don’t want the gray water of theirs or the pee if you see what I mean. The problem is none of that waste should be treated like that. It’s all usable and good but it needs filtered and i believe put through some steps in the food chain. Pills need to stop being flushed. Ammonia isn’t bad as long as you know what it is it can be lightly put on a field. Boron is the same it’s a trace mineral OK in small amounts.



Next consideration. Pee-cycling cycling. Please put just a little bit by each of my trees and then repeat the process :slight_smile:

  1. many drugs are excreted unchanged, but many more are metabolized. they are either broken down considerably, or at least hydroxylated, etc. to make them more water-soluble and therefore “pissable” and filterable by the kidneys. This is what your liver, and specifically P450s, GST-transferases, SULTS, and other liver enzymes do to “detoxify” your body, and they do it with most drugs just like they were initially designed to in order to keep assorted plant alkyloids, etc. from killing us. That means a lot of what drugs we’d pee out are inert by the time they go urethra-rafting.

  2. What we don’t break down many other players do. I don’t know that soil bacteria’s ability to metabolize random drugs is well characterized, but I suspect many have half-lives similar to roundup…short, at best.

  3. Next concern would be if they are actually a) taken up by plants, and b) left as-is (plants also metabolize things, and have little use for floating around oxycodone…). Again I doubt there is much research out there, but I suspect not much of this stuff is both readily take up and then ignored by plants.

  4. The biggest thing would be simple dilution: If a guy takes even 5 oxycodone a day, the average flush is 2.2 gallons per flush, so say the guy only peed twice and we’re not counting all the other water that goes into “graywater” in sewage treatment (hundreds of gallons) you’re already talking about a dilution of almost 1 pill per gallon…with the caveat (for liquid sewage) that it is likely orders of magnitude higher.

Even if you just figure this guy collects pee only, the average person pees about 0.37 gallons per day. Now figure at least 1 in 10 is taking oxy and you are saying that those 5 pills are in about 3.7 gallons of collected urine. That 3.7 gallons goes on several dozen plants. And the biomass we eat from any given plant is anywhere from say 90% of some like beets to less than 10% for stuff like corn… like I said, you’d be working mighty hard to get a significant amount of any drugs back into you by eating pee-plants, by dilution alone, and that’s not counting all the factors above.

all that’s why I am not terribly worried about drugs from urine-fertilizing, my gut (like I said, some isn’t well characterized) just says between dilution and metabolism via multiple organisms it isn’t something that’s going to amount to significant levels of medicinals…



That makes a lot of sense but over a long period of time things build up. As I mentioned would not worry about the pee of 1 but I would worry in other situations where many people are bunched up in a small area eg. California or New York. " Two well-known diseases that can be spread through urine include typhoid (the likely source of the Croydon Typhoid epidemic in the thirties) and urinary schistosomiasis"I have heard that urine is sterile, how can this be? Surely urine, along with faeces, rids the body of toxins? | Notes and Queries |

I’m an advocate of using gray water or urine but not other people’s they can use their own. Might not say that one day we might get desperate for fertilizer its a waste not to use it. Solids can be used as well though im saying if we make changes like this long term we need to do it safely. The other way to do this is use it on things like a firewood plot. We can use large amounts of pee on grain or grass fed to cattle. Don’t ever want to see it used directly on vegetables on a large scale its not safe.

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Sewage sludge as a fertilizer?
Have you heard of PFOS and relatives? Look it up! Here in Michigan you have tanneries that used this means of dumping their byproducts in landfills and field, contaminating water in soils, lakes,crivers crops, then feeding it to pigs and cows in dairies. We should be testing all end products now.


It’s an interesting article. I’d echo what Fruitnut said. It has some application for home growers but the amount needed for even a small farm would be considerable. It strikes me as more a “feel good” measure when it comes to actually having an overall positive impact on commercial farming or the planet.

It’s a bit like the mandated curbside recycling here. It produces more carbon to make two stops at each house with two different trucks than the energy/carbon saved recycling the plastic, because the plastic really doesn’t get recycled.

Likewise with plastic bags vs. paper. It’s rarely mentioned that paper bags take more energy/carbon to recycle, more energy to haul (because paper is bulkier and heavier it takes 7 times the trucks to haul paper bags vs. the same number of plastic bags). And paper bags fill up landfills 7 times faster than plastic (paper bags don’t really degrade in landfills) if they aren’t recycled. And producing paper bags has it’s own set of ecological problems Certainly plastic bags are bad for oceans, but the larger energy/carbon footprint component of paper is rarely mentioned.

I noticed the same was omitted in the peecycling article, unless it was mentioned in the full article, which is restricted access. Namely, the fuel/carbon used to “collect” and truck all the urine, which has a low N content by weight, compared to anhydrous ammonia, ammonium nitrate or urea. I would think trucking urine would require a substantial use of fossil fuels.

I think collecting one’s own urine could have a positive impact, with relatively little effort, on one’s personal garden.


If you have seen milorganite at the store that’s what it’s made from


Well wouldn’t the answer be reusable bags then? I’m sure everyone has a bunch of those plastic disposable bags at home just bring them back and use again. They are durable as are those cloth bags you seem to get for free at various events

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We use cardboard and paper here as mulch around tomatoes. Imagine we went back to how things were. When I was a kid we had two wastes we did not dispose of metal and glass. When you got a truck load of the metal you hauled the cans in as steal. The pop bottles got washed and reused. The other glass went to the landfill but it’s not toxic and can be ground back to sand easily. My parents burned everything and then plastic came along. They burned it until we were asked to stop then they took it over to the landfill and they burned it there. Rubber tires were always a big problem.


What a nightmare:(

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Not necessarily so. Every medicine has a half life, else it would not be a medicine but a toxin that just builds up and kills you. In the soil it will continue to degrade. There is stuff that doesn’t degrade but often it is just our ability to measure infinitesimal small amounts of compounds coupled with our consumption of sensationalistic news.

Having said that I would be more concerned with industrial animal waste because of pesticide contamination. Industrial farming is just too trigger happy with stuff like that.



Let me put it differently if you want to cure a fish you drop antibiotics in the water. Constant antibiotics in the water or ground are not good.

Most of the antibiotics we have today were originally isolated from soil organisms - fungi &/or higher bacterial species(Actinomycetes) - which are constantly manufacturing them to give themselves ‘a leg up on the competition’, as it were. Probably more ‘antibiotic’ activity in a square foot of good, healthy, active soil than would be in the urine of a person receiving antimicrobial therapy for some malady.

Government-supported recycling here is limited to metal cans and cardboard. Up until a year or so, they also did plastic, but I guess that has dried up.
But… for the past 25 years, there’s hardly a scrap of paper, cardboard that’s gone to the landfill from our house… all paper goods, as well as tree prunings, etc. have been going into a gully just below my pond dam spillway, as ‘erosion control’ material. Piles of rotten logs, limbs, scrap wood deposited in that ditch have done double duty as wildlife habitat, as well as a place for vines of Apios americana to run.
It often takes us nearly a month to generate enough ‘garbage’ to fill the ‘Herbie Curbie’ household garbage dumpster, most of our neighbors have theirs filled to overflowing almost every week.