Recycle urine?

February 27, 2009

Rose George opined in today’s New York Times that we should recycle urine.

IN the far reaches of Shaanxi Province in northern China, in an apple-producing village named Ganquanfang, I recently visited a house belonging to two cheery primary-school teachers, Zhang Min Shu and his wife, Wu Zhaoxian. Their house wasn’t exceptional — a spacious yard, several rooms — except for the bathroom. There, up a few steps on a tiled platform, sat a toilet unlike any I’d seen. Its pan was divided in two: solid waste went in the back, and the front compartment collected urine. The liquids and solids can, after a decent period of storage and composting, be applied to the fields as pathogen-free, expense-free fertilizer.

From being unsure of wanting a toilet near the house in the first place — which is why the bathroom is at the far end of their courtyard — the couple had become so delighted with it that they regretted not putting it next to the kitchen after all.

What does this have to do with you? Mr. Zhang and Ms. Wu’s weird toilet — known as a “urine diversion,” or NoMix (after a Swedish brand), toilet — may have things to teach us all.

Though George advocates urine diversion toilets, she acknowledges there could be a problem with them:

Then there’s the sitting problem: in most urine-diversion toilets, a man must empty his bladder sitting down. This wouldn’t be a problem in some countries — Germany recently introduced a toilet-seat alarm that admonishes standers to sit — but it has been in others. Professor Jenssen was flummoxed by one participant at a training workshop in Cuba who said firmly, “If a man sits, he is homosexual.”

First, the greens came for our 3.5 gallon flush toilets. Now they want our flush toilets. What’s next? Just hold it?

2 Responses to “Recycle urine?”

  1. Richard S Courtney Says:

    This call for the recycling of urine is another example of ‘greens’ failing to understand that humans are part of nature.

    Humans are part of nature, and nature uses all the body wastes of all animals including those of humans (e.g. dust to dust and ashes to ashes). So, all human body wastes are recycled. And they always have been recycled. If they were not then we would be drowning in them by now.

    Sewers are a method to ensure the wastes excreted by humans do not accumulate (e.g. in cities) at too great a rate for natural processes to recycle them: the sewers distribute the wastes (e.g. in the sea or in rivers). Sometimes the wastes are processed by treatment plants prior to distributing them.

    Water is removed from the river Thames for human use at several places along the length of the river. The Thames water is purified prior to human consumption. And human excreta are treated prior to emitting them into the Thames at several places along its length. London water is purified Thames water, and it is estimated that the water drunk in London has been urinated four times before it reached London. How much more recycling could there be?

  2. Just Beau Says:

    Waste will go somewhere. For those with sufficient property, wastewaters can be dispersed and applied to the land. I knew of someone who designed this into their house and property circa 1960, in lieu of a installing a cesspool. Its not a novel idea.
    Many municipal waste wastewater treatment plants provide “sludge” to farmers for fertilizer, so the concept of recycling waste onto lands seems common already. It could be done on small-scale in lieu of municipal scale.
    Depending on specific circumstance, there may be cost-reducing economic advantages to recycling wastes.

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