Industrial agriculture has a fertilizer problem. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are an ecological disaster waiting to happen, emitting potent greenhouse gases and slipping into waterways. Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is causing a global fertilizer shortage. It’s time to rethink the way we grow our food—and some researchers say that pee is the answer. Yeah, man. Human pee.
In an AFP report published earlier this week, researchers discussed how human urine could “reduce reliance on chemicals and cut environmental pollution” in the agricultural realm. This isn’t anything new; agricultural experts around the world have a long history of using human waste as fertilizer. That’s because whiz is full of plants’ favorite nutrients—namely nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which we naturally excrete when we hit the can. In fact, AFP cites one UN study which found that global wastewater has the “theoretical potential to offset 13% of the world’s demand for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in agriculture.”
There are a few roadblocks preventing widespread adoption of urine as fertilizer. First: how does one collect all that pee? AFP reports that a urine-centric agriculture system would have to involve overhauling the sewage system, perhaps even using fancy urine-diverting toilets that funnel urine into separate containers. Similar endeavors are underway in countries including Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, South Africa, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, the U.S., and France, AFP notes—but then there’s the PR of it all. The Pee Relations, if you will.
The big question is this: Are consumers ready to dive into a new, urine-soaked agricultural reality? Yes and no. Per AFP, the “acceptance rate” is very high in countries including China, France, and Uganda for example, but remains quite low in others. Personally, I’d take a pee potato over an artificially-fertilized potato any day. I’m ready to eat, drink, and pee merry.