BRATTLEBORO — The Rich Earth Institute, an environmental nonprofit organization, hosted its seventh annual Summit last week on reclaiming urine as a resource.
The Summit is an event that brings together researchers, practitioners, and enthusiasts to share what they have been learning in the movement to advance circular sanitation systems, with an emphasis on urine, which contains vital plant nutrients.
As the Institute has demonstrated in southern Vermont, urine-derived fertilizer can be used to support local farms, rather than having those nutrients flushed into clean water and sent downstream, where they can contribute to pollution and harmful algal blooms.
This was the second year the three-day summit has been hosted virtually, enabling participation from 30 countries, with representation from every continent except Antarctica.
“The range and depth of high-quality work being done by all of you around the globe is truly inspiring,” Ivan Ussach, the Institute's executive director, told the assembled participants.
Lynn Broaddus, president of the Water Environment Federation in 2020-21, was the keynote speaker. She discussed how integrating distributed systems at the community scale will help make wastewater infrastructure more resilient and sustainable, and she outlined key strategies for supporting this transformation.
Before giving her presentation, Broaddus commented on the experience represented by the Summit participants, saying: “I am humbled to be with all of you, because you have been working for decades on how to bring change.”
A roundtable discussion on the economics of productive sanitation in the U.S. explored the challenges and opportunities around funding innovative technologies and infrastructure in the face of shovel-ready projects that pollute receiving water bodies and continue to waste critical drinking water resources.
Panelists included Dr. Jay Garland (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), Bruce Douglas (Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation), Stacey Isaac Berahzer (IB Environmental), and Dr. Pablo Cornejo (California State University at Chico).
The first day concluded with a panel showcasing implementation projects around the world. During this panel, Kim Nace, co-founder of the Institute, introduced Rich Earth Tools, LLC, a spinoff business that aims to bring building-scale treatment technology to market.
The second and third days featured panels on social research, technological progress, agricultural use of urine fertilizer, regulatory pathways, and global partnerships.
Presenters discussed a wide range of questions, such as: How do the life-cycle impacts of urine recycling compare with conventional systems? And, what do different consumers think about urine-fertilized produce?
The Summit concluded on a festive note with the presentation of the Golden Funnel Award to Pat Lando, of ReCode in Oregon, for his tireless efforts to forge regulatory pathways for the beneficial use of urine.