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"Please pee in our Porta-potties for science," say researchers

Porta potties in a lovely setting.
E. Dronkert
Porta potties in a lovely setting.

Researchers have set up two Porta potties by a bus stop on the University of Michigan's central campus today. They're hoping to gather enough urine to research whether disinfected human urine can be safely recycled to fertilize food crops.

In a press release, the University of Michigan said they're working with four other institutions in this "first of its kind" research project.

Why recycle pee? Good question.

Here's their answer:

Researchers say it’s full of several nutrients that plants need to thrive – nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients often remain in the effluent that wastewater treatment plants discharge back into rivers. In waterways, nutrient pollution can lead to algal blooms and dead zones where fish can’t survive. They can also produce toxins that could taint drinking water. Beyond nutrients, urine carries most of the excess pharmaceuticals that our bodies don’t use when we take medications.

Removing pee from the sewage waste stream, they say, has several benefits:

  • reduces nutrients in waterways
  • streamlines wastewater treatment
  • tackles the issue of pharmaceutical contamination
  • and lessens the need to make synthetic fertilizers

Researchers will study both fresh urine and a solid fertilizer called "struvite." They can make this solid form from the urine samples.
There's a test garden using this type of fertilizer near Brattleboro, Vermont. Researchers say they grew lettuce and carrots in the test garden last year.

So there you have it. If you want to donate your pee, head on up to the bus stop near the CC Little Building on U of M's Central Campus in Ann Arbor.

If you want to talk about this story on Twitter, the hashtag #peecycler is recommended.

*We will update this story later today.

Mark Brush was Michigan Radio’s Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.