Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006
Voices / Viewpoint

We can’t keep using clean drinking water to flush fertilizer down the drain

With promising initial research, the Rich Earth Institute prepares for growth

Kim Nace is the administrative director of the Brattleboro-based Rich Earth Institute.

Brattleboro

Over the past three years, working with limited resources, the Rich Earth Institute has made great progress toward establishing Brattleboro as the national research center for the study of urine-based fertilizer.

With initial funding by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), and many local donors, and in collaboration with researchers at the University of Michigan and the University at Buffalo, we have built the nation’s first community-scale urine recycling program.

* * *

We have sanitized and applied more than 5,000 gallons of urine to hayfields in controlled field trials, establishing its value as a replacement for synthetic fertilizer in hay production.

In 2014, we completed the first season of EPA-contracted field trials tracking residual pharmaceuticals in urine-based fertilizers. With our university partners and the tireless assistance of our intern, Neil Patel, we are determining whether trace levels of medicines from urine-based fertilizers can persist in soils, agricultural crops, or groundwater.

Preliminary results are encouraging, and final results, which are being anticipated widely by the wastewater-treatment and sustainable-agriculture sectors, will be available in 2016.

Plumbing codes can be an obstacle to innovation, but the Rich Earth Institute has been working with a national committee of experts to proactively revise the Uniform Plumbing Code to allow a variety of urine-diverting toilets. The International Association of Plumbers and Mechanical Officers (IAPMO) recognizes the importance of toilets that recycle waste into fertilizer, and requested the formation of this code committee.

These new standards for urine-diverting and composting toilets will allow plumbers, architects, and builders to legally install a variety of new systems in our homes and public places. Rich Earth Institute’s research director, Abe Noe-Hays, was integral to this effort. The entire national team of ecological sanitation experts are dedicated and determined to create sustainable options for future generations.

* * *

This year, we have given our “toilet tour” and foundational scientific presentation to visitors from as far as Germany, South Africa, China, and Kenya. Students from Yale University, Tufts University, and Hampshire College have visited this summer to learn about completing the nutrient cycle and recycling urine. Local students from Marlboro College and SIT have completed projects with the Rich Earth Institute.

Our collaborating civil and environmental engineers, chemists, and bacteriologists from the University of Michigan and University at Buffalo, along with a documentary film crew, have all traveled to Brattleboro to see our project first-hand.

We are also doing international outreach. I will be going to Kenya in January with William Aludo, a recent graduate of World Learning, to his home village.

When William visited the Institute for a “toilet tour” and learned that urine is a natural, abundant fertilizer, he was radiant with possibility for his people. He reports that many in his village are undernourished and do not have resources to purchase fertilizer to improve crop production. Together, they will initiate a pilot project helping women grow more food in their gardens using urine as fertilizer.

While in Kenya, I will also meet with leaders of the SANERGY project to begin planning a targeted research collaboration. SANERGY works with local entrepreneurs living in impoverished regions of Nairobi to provide sanitation to thousands of people, using toilets that harvest urine for use as fertilizer.

To become more economically viable by producing a better product, the SANERGY project needs access to the urine treatment technologies that the Rich Earth Institute has been developing in Vermont.

* * *

The Institute receives a constant stream of inquiries from people asking for detailed documentation of our project, or for our help starting “pee-cycling” programs in their communities and universities. Right now, we don’t have the human resources to fully respond to most of these requests, but they illustrate the great interest in this topic and the opportunity for leadership.

After three years of building connections, experience, and credibility, it is time for us to add staff to take advantage of the surging industry and academic interest in recycling urine into fertilizer.

As a research institute, our primary product is knowledge and information, and our current federal and industry contracts show there is a market for this product. Once we find funding to hire personnel beyond our minimal startup staff, we are confident that those positions will become self-sustaining through additional research contracts and private partnerships.

The Rich Earth Institute is an unusual organization with entrepreneurial spirit, national connections, and serious community support by an amazing group of courageous and empowered urine donors. Our project might seem ahead of the times, but really it’s just in time — and hopefully not too late.

With 7 billion people growing into 9 billion people in the next 35 years, continuing to use clean drinking water to flush fertilizer down the drain will not suffice. We have to and will make the transition, and it won’t be difficult if we dedicate resources to creating rational, innovative solutions.

What do you think? Leave us a comment

Editor’s note: Our terms of service require you to use your real names. We will remove anonymous or pseudonymous comments that come to our attention. We rely on our readers’ personal integrity to stand behind what they say; please do not write anything to someone that you wouldn’t say to his or her face without your needing to wear a ski mask while saying it. Thanks for doing your part to make your responses forceful, thoughtful, provocative, and civil. We also consider your comments for the letters column in the print newspaper.

Add Comment

* Required information
1000
Enter the third word of this sentence.
Captcha Image
Powered by Commentics

Comments (12)

Sort By
Topic: Page One
5/5 (2)
1 2 3 > Last
Gravatar
New
Tamara Stenn
Gravatar
1
0
0
Aug 2018
Tamara Stenn (Brattleboro, Vermont, US) says...

Thanks for writing this Elayne. I was thinking the same thing myself. The silence we received from the hospital is quite deafening. Unfortunately we\'ve had to continue working with the hospital as other (minor) heath issues come up.

Gravatar
New
Judith Skillman
Gravatar
1
0
0
Aug 2018
Judith Skillman (Newcastle, US) says...

Excellent and informative writing about the media and about the state of our nation. We must support the press speak truth to power, now more than ever before.

Gravatar
Regular
Ruby Bode
Gravatar
10
0
5
Aug 2018
Top Poster
First Poster
Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

We are also obliged to criticize the press when they merely echo the lies of the powerful. In this case, much of the press has taken a side, not just against the policies of the President, but against the election itself on behalf of the parties of war and Wall St. Just as the US has in the past agitated in other countries for coups against democratic outcomes they don’t like, much of the press, including this editorial, is now agitating for a coup here at home.

Gravatar
New
Peter Ford
Gravatar
1
1
0
Aug 2018
Peter Ford (Dallas) says...

Nailed it - Thank you.

Gravatar
New
TB Smith
Gravatar
1
0
1
Aug 2018
TB Smith (Ba, Oklahoma, US) says...

The divisiveness brought on by this shamefully poor excuse for a president has been once again, borne out by this article, and the responses to it .. his most devoted followers are the most gullible and easily swayed sheeple since the \"Kool-Aid party in Jonestown\" ... those who stand up the most fervently to this dictator \"wanabe\", will , inthe end, see him and the fellow purveyors of his garbage rhetoric like FOX News, Alex Jones, Breitbart, etc., crumble and be dumped like stale crackers (pardon the pun) .. we must impeach this tyrant before too much damage is done, either from within or outside our borders.

Gravatar
Regular
Ruby Bode
Gravatar
10
0
5
Aug 2018
Top Poster
First Poster
Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

So it’s OK that access to outlets that simply recognize Trump as President is indeed being shut down? But isn’t that exactly what this editorial is against? Should outlets that cheered on Obama’s wars and love of Wall St have likewise been shut down? Only John Birch Society–inspired screeds against Trump indicate the “legitimate” press?

Gravatar
Regular
Ruby Bode
Gravatar
10
0
5
Aug 2018
Top Poster
First Poster
Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

TB Smith’s comment in apparent support of the us-vs-them tone of this editorial illustrates why so many people distrust so much of the press (although, again, it appears to be only pro-Trump and anti-imperialist outlets that are actually being shut down): They are promulgating hysterical claims about fascism, Russians, and “crackers” not in the interest of the people, but wholly on behalf of the neoliberal/neoconservative program of Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama to deny Trump the Presidency and even remove him from office – not democratically, but by coup if necessary. That makes the press rather anti-democratic and, indeed, against the people.

Gravatar
New
Amelia Stone
Gravatar
1
0
0
Aug 2018
Amelia Stone (E Dummerston, Vermont, US) says...

Kudos to the Boston Globe for encouraging newspapers across the country to remind us all of the value of a free press, and to the Commons for hearing that call. The NYTimes article, A Free Press Needs You, concludes with the following: \"If you haven’t already, please subscribe to your local papers. Praise them when you think they’ve done a good job and criticize them when you think they could do better. We’re all in this together.\" Today I plan to subscribe.

Page 1 of 3
1 2 3 > Last
 
 

Originally published in The Commons issue #287 (Wednesday, January 7, 2015). This story appeared on page D2.

Related stories

More by Kim Nace