a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Posts Tagged ‘urine’

Unmentionable. Our baffling sewage system

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Nearly a century ago, President Teddy Roosevelt asked this important question: whether “civilized people ought to know how to dispose of the sewage in some other way than putting it into the drinking water.” Unfortunately, we have yet to ask – let alone answer – this question since then. Sewage treatment guzzles energy, uses a shitload (pun intended) of drinking water. The problem is compounded by old sewer systems not equipped to handle waste from a population which, in some cities, has doubled since the system was built, sending excess sewage-polluted water into the nearest river daily, all according to this op-ed by Rose George, author of, “The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters.”

When these concentrated nutrients are dumped in waterways and oceans, they seriously disrupt fragile ecosystems. Sewage discharge causes “dead zones” in oceans and waterways, depleting food supply, harming wildlife and making people sick. And “sick people” send our health-care costs soaring, complicating another component of social well-being.

Flush toilets were, of course, greatly welcomed and considered a sign of a successful, “civilized” society. Like the garbage trucks that consistently appear at your curb to take away what we so casually and consistently “throw away”, the flush toilet feeds the illusion that anything going down the toilet “disappears”, whether it is human waste, prescription drugs or trash (my neighbor once flushed a live mouse to “get rid” of it!?!)

Yet, sewage contains nutrients which can be used as a valuable fertilizer. Urine, in particular, contains many fertile nutrients, such as phosphate and nitrogen, and hardly any of the pathogens of excrement. Systems of urine separation (called urine-diversion) can greatly decrease energy use of sewage systems as well as replace a finite reserve of virgin phosphates used in agriculture which are otherwise collected from a finite supply in the ground. Urine diversion also makes for richer sludge and produces more methane, which can be turned into gas or electricity, “turning a :guzzler of energy into a net producer”, says Jac Wilsenach, a researcher and civil engineer, quoted in the NY Times recent Op-ed, “Yellow is the New Green”

In the meantime, most of us are stuck with a flushing system. What can we do while we wait for change? I’ve already posted on this topic a couple times – Flush less, Pee on the Earth, consider the savings of a low-flush toilet or consider a composting version.

Q and A with Rose George, here.

Pee on Plants – your Liquid is Gold

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

I’m outing myself today. I’m Tao and I don’t pee in my toilet.

Ahh. I feel better already – and encouraged by the increasing acceptance of visibility (figuratively speaking) of people who distribute pee outdoors rather flushing it away along with gallons of purified water. With drought increasing in frequency and intensity around the world, people are saving water in every way and beginning to understand the logic of recycling this nutrient-rich “liquid gold” back into the soil.

For me, it all started in the NC drought of 2001, when the idea of flushing away gallons of water with a little clean urine suddenly seemed ridiculous. “Letting it mellow” just wasn’t cutting it anymore, especially when bathroom odor became an issue. I knew about composting toilets, which actually turn waste in rich soil supplements, but alas and alack, they are not yet implemented into the urban system. Instead, I piled some sawdust in my backyard and started my own odor-free, compost pile, which I distributed around my yard over time and refreshed occasionally with new dust. These days I simply dilute and pour around my trees and plants All it takes is a user-friendly pitcher kept in the loo and a stroll to the garden after use.

Emma Cooper of provides details about using urine in the garden. In diluted form, it nourishes all plant life and used straight-up, can effectively and safely eliminate weeds. As she puts it, “…it’s not a backward step, it’s space-age technology…” Read the complete article here.

Carol Steinfeld, writer, researcher, and resource-recycling specialist is the author of Liquid Gold, The Lore adn Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants. Educated in ecological resource management solutions, she leads workshops worldwide and is projects director of Ecowaters, a nonprofit public information project. Mark your calendar – from the website:

Pee On Earth Day(s) announced

Pee On Earth Day, a day to bring one’s urine outside to nourish plants and save water used to flush toilets, will be June 21 in the northern hemisphere (Dec. 21 in the southern hemisphere). A free downloadable kit with tips for safe outdoor urine application will be available on the Liquid Gold web site soon!

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