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Does Urine have a Future as a Form of Fertilizer?

 

Human urine is obviously very prolific and virtually a free commodity.  It seems strange that until now it has never been used as a commercial product. 

But recently a French company started investigating the possibility of converting human urine into a fertilizer - to be used in farming.  Their idea is to collect and treat urine to develop a fertilizer out of a plentiful natural human resource.

 

What is this company?

This company is know as Toopi Organics.  The name Toopi means "to pee" in English - - so what could be more appropriate? 

They are based in the Gironde Region of France and are at the stage of waiting for the go ahead from the French authorities in order to start marketing and selling their urine-based products.

 

How did the concept arise?

The company came up with the concept when they met with someone who worked in the "composting toilets" business who complained about the difficulty of knowing what to do with the surplus urine.

Urine is rich in nutrients and apparently scientists have been mulling over for years how it could be used as an organic fertilizer.  It seems strange that it has taken so long.  

Earlier this year, Helvi Heinonen-Tanski (an environmental scientist) told the magazine Scientific American that it was totally possible to use human urine as a fertilizer instead of industrial fertilizer.

 

What are the benefits of urine as a fertilizer?

Human urine is full of nutrients your soil needs. From nitrogen to phosphorous it is a wonderful source of nutrients big and small.

While urine is not actually sterile, it is said to be safe to use as fertilizer in your garden.  Many less sophisticated farmers in their third world countries have been using urine on their land with some success.  In fact, this age-old fertilization practice has been brought back by many looking to harness all of the resources close to them in order to lessen their environmental impact. 

One study involved smallholders in Uganda and the application of urine at two different concentrations in comparison to a controlled plot.  It was found that compared to the control plot, all treatments show a statistically significant difference in yield.  For example, the plot with the optimum urine volume application led to a two-fold production rate of maize over the control plot.

 

 

Ensuring safety first!

There could be rare occurrences of bacterial infection that could contribute to bacterial problems around your plants.  This risk would need to be addressed.

The question of how fresh should the urine be was also considered important.   While there was a wide range of opinions, allowing the urine to sit for a couple of weeks was considered the safest approach..

It was also generally accepted that applying urine fertilizer should be to the soil away from the leaves of the plants is preferable. Urine should therefore not be applied as foliar spray (as many organic fertilizers often are) but rather directly to the soil near the base of the plants.

The Ugandan study used the following method: “The urine was applied close to the ground in furrows along the plant rows, which were immediately covered with soil. Besides preventing ammonia losses, this practice helps to reduce the smell and avoid burning crop leaves.” - Kirchmann and Pettersson, 1995

Finally, the question of dilution rates came up.  Obviously a commercially produced product will take that into account while when used on a local level in small gardens and orchards, it was suggested to dilute the urine with water at a 10:1 water to urine ratio.

 

In the future? 

If you are interested in this concept, keep an eye out for when the product  (from Toopi Organics) actually reaches the manufacturing stage.  In the meantime, there is nothing stopping you for using your own version!  

In the allotment world here in the UK, it is often suggested that adding fresh urine to the compost heap regularly helps in the decomposing and breaking down process.