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We are all made aware, in one way or another, that our
earth has some resources that are finite and the more
of “us” there are, the more concerned experts become
about how to deal with these limited resources. We often
hear about the challenges here in our country and around
the world to meet the needs of populations facing food,
water, clean air and other shortages. Yet one of the most
vital, finite and without any possible substitutions, is
Earth Magazine describes phosphorus as “fundamental
to life: It is part of the structural framework of DNA and
RNA, it’s present in all cells, and it is the main component
of bone and tooth enamel. It’s also essential to plant
growth; the more phosphorus, the faster the growth and
the higher the crop yield. One of the primary nutrients
in commercial fertilizer, along with nitrogen and potassium,
is phosphorus. Phosphorus has no substitute as a
nutrient and cannot be synthesized, but must instead be
mined from existing sources, which, by some accounts,
may have already reached peak production.”
Surprisingly, we may well be the best resource for
replacing phosphorous through….our urine. Correct.
Urine is remarkable sterile and we humans seem to be
great intake vessels for all the phosphates we consume.
We do not use them and so they pass through our bodies
in our urine. As it turns out, urine is pretty darn sterile
and a fairly recent study comparing regular fertilizer to
pasteurized urine on hay crops and the urine is proving
to be significantly more impactful. In fact, one gentleman
in Vermont said the urine literally doubled his production.
Now obviously urine is not the sole solution to the need
to increase food production for the world’ ever growing
population, but it does highlight the fact that as more and
more people occupy our planet, we will find ourselves
looking at problems from very different perspectives.
Oddly enough, this year marks the 30th anniversary of
ZPG or the Zero Population Growth movement, which
was quite the radical idea when I was in college. Bumper
stickers, posters, public service announcements, and
magazine advertisements urged people to adopt the ZPG
philosophy and to join the organization. And, amazingly,
the idiosyncratic campaign succeeded beyond all expectations.
According to some reports, the years between
1969 and 1972 saw the membership of ZPG briefly blossom
to more than 35,000 members.ZPG’s early mission
was relatively straightforward: raise public awareness
of the link between population growth and environmental
degradation and, in turn, encourage people to have
smaller families. Thus, the corresponding message was
simple: Stop at Two. ZPG’s focus concentrated on reducing
desired family size and ensuring the means and rights
of human reproduction.
In the late 60’s in America, “revolutionary” would be an
apt description of someone daring enough to talk about
reproductive rights. Large families were generally considered
to be desirable and comprised the norm. But along
came Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking and best-selling
Silent Spring, which revealed the dangers of chemical
pollution. Environmental disasters seemed to be on the
increase; for example, Lake Erie was declared a “dying
sinkhole.” Environmental awareness began to enter the
public consciousness. In the summer of 1969, as the
highly polluted Cuyahoga River near Cleveland burst into
flames, there seemed to be an apocalyptic urgency to the
soon-to-be-called “ environmental cause.” Bill Reyerson,
founder of the first campus chapter of ZPG, described the
reaction to the burning rivers and other catastrophes. “It
sent shock waves through the country,” he remembered.
“People realized that if the country was so polluted that
rivers could burn, we had a serious problem.”
A report from Jeff Schweers of the Gainesville Sun
found that back in 2015, a University of Florida researcher
and his team of students have come up with a novel
approach to water conservation that turns urine into fertilizer
and takes pharmaceuticals out of the environment.
Treavor Boyer, an associate professor of the University
of Florida’s Department of Environmental Engineering
Sciences, and his team have developed a source-separation
technique to harvest valuable nutrients like nitrogen,
phosphorous and potassium from flushed water.
“We’re doing
research on urine
separation that
really starts at the
source, and that
is investigating
urinals and toilets,
and goes all
the way to using
the urine as fertilizer,”
Boyer said.
The team is
investigating the
chemistry of urine
and how it changes
in urinals, making
sure urinals
work properly to
prevent clogging
and odors he
Urine is responsible
for 80 percent
of the nitrogen,
half the
phosphorus, and
half the pharmaceuticals in wastewater.
Their project won the American Society of
Civil Engineers 2015 sustainable development
award because of its potential application in
developing countries.
About 20 percent of the water used on the UF
campus is for wastewater, he noted. Installing
waterless urinals and no-mix toilets would cut
that usage to 1 percent.
Boyer also envisions using the wastewater
generated at the Swamp during football games
to fertilize the playing field. The nitrogen flushed
during one game is enough to meet the needs of
fertilizing the field for a year, he said.
“It is not a stretch to apply this liquid urine to
provide nitrogen needs,” he said.
Most places in the U.S. use drinking water to
flush toilets, he said. By harvesting the nutrients
to create fertilizer and remove pharmaceuticals
would be a boon to the environment, he said.
A source of guidance for those who wish
to use urine in their home gardens is Carol
Steinfeld’s book, Liquid Gold, the Lore and Logic
of Using Urine to Grow Plants. Not only is it a
how-to manual, but it also gives an illustrated
history of various uses of urine.

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