It could easily be argued that ‘taking a leak’ is our most apt description for going to the toilet as it literally involves leaking valuable resources into the waste stream. A research team led by ISF has been investigating the feasibility of diverting urine, and the important nutrients it contains, from our waste stream.
Urine contains all the essential nutrients needed by plants to grow, including nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. The research project sought to explore the many technological, social, regulatory issues to be resolved in order for us to use modern urine diverting (UD) technology to collect urine for use as an agricultural fertilizer.
If urine collection is to be widely accepted by society, we need to make sure people feel comfortable with the idea before converting traditional flushing toilets to UD toilets. In a series of trials, staff, students and visitors to the University of Technology, Sydney were given the opportunity to use specially designed UD toilets and urinals that capture and separate urine. In a surprising result, since tens of thousands of these units are installed in northern Europe, the toilets performed badly in practice.
A UTS visual communications student designed signage to give users information about urine diversion and to give users a space to provide comments on their experience with the UDTs. Users contributed around 800 comments over the eight-month trial, providing important feedback on the acceptability of UD toilets. This research will inform the development of the next generation of UD technology to improve user acceptability so that they can be used in public settings. Other UTS and UWS visual communication students designed brands and awareness campaigns - see http://vimeo.com/13365354 for a wonderful short piece on why 'peak P' matters more than 'peak oil'.
An experiment using the collected urine as a fertilizer, conducted by an agriculture honours student at the University of Western Sydney, found that even a relatively low application of urine meets the critical phosphorus requirements for a variety of plants including lettuce.
One of the research collaborators has plans to take the research project further by trialling UD technology in commercial buildings to help find out what is would take to collect and reuse Sydney’s urine.