If we learned anything from the 1995 tragedy from the major motion picture, Water World, it was not that the polar ice caps melting would flood the planet. Nor was it that if you spend 175 million dollars on a movie that it will be even remotely decent to watch. What we learned is that eventually in our future here on Earth, Kevin Costner will have to urinate into a device that somehow magically turns the urine back into something useful. It’s unfortunate that the entire film could not be run through the same device.
Strangely enough, the concept of “peecycling” isn’t one of futuristic wasteland endeavor, it’s happening right now, all over the world. In Amsterdam, where most sketchy things are totally acceptable, there is already a program in place to collect urine for future use. “What could these crazy Dutch people possible want with gallons and gallons of urine?” you might ask, just like I did.
It turns out that urine is packed with nitrogen and phosphorus, the two main elements of fertilizer. So much so, that when wastewater is treated, the nitrogen and phosphorus are purposefully removed because it would cause insane algae growth when the treated water was added back to a standing water source, such as a lake or river. Our “Number One” only accounts for 1% of the volume of our wastewater, but accounts for 80% of the nitrogen and 45% of the phosphates of wastewater.
So of course, the question of “why?” still lingers considering that there are other sources of nitrogen and phosphorus. The problem lies in the fact that phosphate rock has to be mined and treated. The process is not easy and involves volatile chemicals like phosphoric acid. With such a dangerous process at the heart of most modern fertilizers, it’s no wonder that people are looking for other sources of their base elements.
So the theory is that we are flushing away millions of dollars of valuable urine every day. I, for one, can assure you that the “value” of urine at this junction in the “peecycling” game is questionable. I took several jars of my own homemade “fertilizer”, in “beer” “Diet Coke” and “bottled water” varieties, to my local gardening store, and I could not sell a single one. The good news though is that the ensuing restraining order should expire in time for the fall planting season.
Whether the notion of recycling urine makes you squirm or not, I have to admit that after all the research I have done, it’s a totally viable option. Sustainability is not always pretty. In this case, we have on one hand a dangerous and dirty product in mass-produced fertilizers. On the other hand, we have urine (pun completely intended). This may be one of those cases where what we do not know won’t hurt us. I, for one, am not ready to trade my toilet for my tomato plants, but the truth is: it works.