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Rich Earth Institute gets USDA grant for urine reclamation project

Tours may be arranged by calling Nace at 802-579-1857. For more information, visit or visit their Facebook page.

BRATTLEBORO—The Rich Earth Institute (REI) has received a $15,000 grant from the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program to conduct a second season of field trials with Jay and Janet Bailey of Fairwinds Farm on Upper Dummerston Road.

The Rich Earth Institute is a nonprofit research and demonstration organization founded in 2011 by Abe Noe-Hays and Kim Nace. Dedicated to closing the food nutrient cycle, the mission of REI is to advance and promote human manure as a resource.

In 2012, REI’s Urine Nutrient Reclamation Project recycled 600 gallons of human urine by collecting, transporting, sanitizing, and applying it as fertilizer to a hay field.

The project will expand this summer to 3,000 gallons of urine. All aspects of the research will be replicated, refined, and fully documented.

Urine contains vast quantities of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — elements required for healthy soils.

Instead of collecting nutrients for reuse as REI proposes, our current system mixes human waste with potable water and transports it to a wastewater treatment plant. Treatment plants use an energy-intensive and relatively inefficient process to extract these same elements in an attempt to lessen water pollution. They then discharge non-potable water back into rivers.

Similar to the evolution of solid waste management systems, where planners started with extracting glass bottles and then paper, metals and plastics from our landfills, extracting nutrient-laden urine from our wastewater stream could greatly reduce potable water consumption as well as alleviate pollution to our waterways. It will simultaneously create a source of local, inexpensive, and abundant fertilizer.

“There is a heightened awareness now of the need to close the food nutrient cycle and to create infrastructure based on a sustainable flow of nutrients in our environment,” said Nace.

REI is collaborating nationally with engineers in the sanitation industry, water quality advocates, soil scientists, and microbiologists at the EPA.

Additionally, REI is working with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation for permitting and regulatory purposes.

Urine is being collected for REI through informal donations from local volunteers. To participate, write

Urine also can be collected formally via waterless urinals and new source separating toilets, which are gaining popularity, especially in Europe. A demonstration model is installed at the REI office in Brattleboro.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #194 (Wednesday, March 13, 2013).

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