Rich Earth Institute receives multiple grants to expand urine diversion efforts

BRATTLEBORO — The Rich Earth Institute recently received multiple grants totaling approximately $145,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Fund's Long Island Sound Futures Fund to divert nitrogen from the Connecticut River Watershed.

While Rich Earth Institute was the only Vermont organization to receive an award, 36 grants totaling $2.57 million were distributed to groups throughout the Northeast to improve the overall health and ecosystem of Long Island Sound.

This grant program combines funds from the EPA and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and involves monies for both implementation of programs and planning for expansion of those programs in the future.

“This is the first time we have received funding specifically to collect more urine,” Abe Noe-Hays, research director at the Institute, said in a news release, “and we have recently added additional farms and equipment in order to accommodate this increase in quantity.”

Why divert urine and collect it? According to REI, it is rich with exactly the nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and trace minerals needed in agriculture to fertilize crops. With 1,000 gallons of urine, 50 pounds of synthetically produced nitrogen can be replaced in fertilizing one acre of hay. And diverting 1,000 gallons of urine from the waste stream conserves approximately 31,200 gallons of potable flush water.

REI has been conducting research and demonstrating this approach since 2012 and continues most of its research with support from the National Science Foundation. This new funding will enable them to double the volume of nutrients recovered and returned to local hay fields.

“Windham County is leading Vermont and the country in the development of urine diverting, alternative waste management infrastructure,” said Kim Nace, founder and executive director of the Rich Earth Institute. “We're turning urine into a valuable and locally-used resource for our farmers, and saving water while we do it. As early adopters, eyes are on our community as we grow and refine our operations, refining the model for replication in other locations.”

With this round of funding by the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, many more individuals and organizations can participate. Rich Earth Institute's project will entail an expanded effort to divert more urine in Windham County, and planning for efforts in 2020 to grow along the run of the Connecticut River Watershed.

In 2018, a lot of energy was put into building capacity and ramping-up, and with these new funds, the Rich Earth Institute can add institutional partners who are interested in permanent, large-scale installations of urine-diverting toilet systems.

REI is grateful to the significant numbers of early adopters and committed local urine donors who helped collect almost 7,000 gallons in 2018. For $30, new donors in the Brattleboro area are invited to purchase a simple, portable urinal (a 5 gallon plastic jug, nuns cap, and funnel).

At REI's Urine Depot on Birge Street in Brattleboro, you will find a notebook inviting you to join the friendly “Piss Off” competition by recording your contributions. To learn more about becoming a urine donor, email [email protected].

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