Move over dual flushing toilets. Meet the NoMix toilet, which separates your number 1 from your number 2. Okay, Anna. What’s the trick here? Who cares if a toilet can separates my bodily movements.
Hear me out. There is a method to my madness. What is a the point of a No Mix or urine diversion toilet?
“The “NoMix technology” concept is also simple: urine is collected in the front compartment of specially designed toilets and drained, with a little flushing water or even undiluted, into a local storage tank. The back compartment of these toilets operates on the same principle as conventional models; the waste matter collected is flushed into the sewers with water. One of the Novaquatis research topics was how urine is to be subsequently managed: the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus are used to produce a fertilizer – or are removed by processes similar to those applied at wastewater treatment plants.” [Source.]
Oh, come on, Anna. Be serious. I’m not eating anything someone or even I urinated on.
Urine as a Fertilizer:
I know. It is strange, but there have been studies of the benefits of human urine as fertilizer. In my earlier article, “Urine Does a Plant Good,” I spoke about a 2009 Finland study that found tomato plants prospered with added urine and wood ash. In fact, the ones with the yellow mellow? Let’s just say the plants produced a bumper crop of those juicy red beauties.
Better yet. Taste testers did not notice any difference between urinated tomato plants and ones which were not fertilized with urine. Since urine is abundant, it is a cheap fertilizer. In addition, urine is high in phosphorous, a needed building block for agricultural purposes.
“High-grade phosphate rock reserves are running out: at current rates of exploitation (increasing at around 3% per year), the economic reserves of phosphorus will last no more than 50 years. The economically viable reserves in the United States for example, will be depleted within 25 to 30 years (Rosemarin et al., 2008; Cordell et al., 2009).” [Source]
There are several urine diversion toilets available and are being operated in such places as Sweden, Finland, and Germany. (See page 16 of the above hyper-linked report.) In the US, you can buy one here.
So, what happens to the urine? It is collected from the toilet and then sent to a waste water facility to remove hormones such as birth control pills and pharmaceutical residues from the urine. The final product? Fertilizer.
Overburden Wastewater Facilities:
But, the benefits of urine collection does not just stop at making fertilizer. Urine diversion also helps our overtaxed wastewater systems. Rose George, the author of “The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, ” stated in her Op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled, “Yellow is the New Green,”
“When a rainstorm suddenly sends millions of gallons of water into an already overloaded system, the extra must be stored or — if storage is lacking — discharged, untreated, into the nearest river or harbor. Each week, New York City sends about 800 Olympic-size swimming pools’ worth of sewage-polluted water into nearby waters because there’s nowhere else for it to go.”
The beauty of the urine diversion system is our waste water facilities would be filtering much less water than would ordinarily be the case with our current toilets . Thus waste water facilities could be made smaller. In my own town, many of the property owners have septic systems installed because the cost to expand the waste water plant would cost an arm and a leg. However, the problem with septic systems if not maintained properly, they can fail and cause groundwater pollution.
How much water would you be saving?
The manufacturer of the Doublett Systemet, one of the urine diversion toilets, states:
“Thanks to its unique design, we can sawe approximately 80% of flushing water in comparison with a normal two bottoms toilet, and reduce 80% of wastewater.
Example: Ordinary person used WC 6 times per day, in which 5 times one urinates. 5 x 1,5 dl x 4 person = 3 Liter per day and family. 5 x 4 liter x 4 person = 80 Liter per day and family. 80 -3 = 77 Liter drinking water can saves , and 77 liter wastewater reduce.”
(Note, 77 liters is about 20 gallons of water.)
“Left: urine-diversion flush toilet by Roediger (Germany). A valve opens only when the user is seated to prevent flushing water drain into the urine tank. Right: urine diversion flush toilet by Gustavsberg (Sweden). No valve is used to allow a little bit of flushing water enter the urine pipe, which avoids clogging of assemblies.”
Challenges of the use of Urine Diversion Toilets:
There are over 135,000 urine diversion toilets in use today. [Source] Before you get on the urine diversion band wagon, there are some challenges involved with this technology. Novaraquatis who conducted research about the these toilets noted the following challenges.
- Approval of urine to be used as fertilizer
- Ongoing maintenance of the toilets so they do not get blocked.
- Must be cleaned every day
- Hard for children because they may not be able to aim properly.
- Hard for women to use because they may not want to sit on a public toilet seat.
- Good ventilation is required where the urine is stored.
- Double the cost of conventional toilets.
- Use of urine as a fertilizer on our food.
However despite the above challenges, a 2009 survey conducted of 38 NoMix projects in 7 European countries revealed a high level of approval of the technology. 2700 people responded.
“NoMix-technology is well accepted; around 80% of users liked the idea, 75−85% were satisfied with design, hygiene, smell, and seating comfort of NoMix-toilets, 85% regarded urine-fertilizers as good idea (50% of farmers), and 70% would purchase such food. However, 60% of users encountered problems; NoMix-toilets need further development. We found few differences among countries, but systematic differences between public and private settings, where people seem more critical. Information was positively correlated with acceptance, and, e.g., a good mood or environmentally friendly behavior.”
What about the Poop?
What are we going to do with the poop? Power our houses. In 2005, Wired Magazine reported how human feces power a Rwandan Prison. It is converted into methane to be used for cooking.
“It has reduced by 60 percent the annual wood-fuel costs which would otherwise reach near $1 million, according to Silas Lwakabamba, rector of the Kigali Institute of Science, Technology and Management, where the technology was developed.”
Love Toilet Talk? More Sustainable Sanitation Info
Some of you are saying, “Anna, I got the eco-toilet talk. Others are saying dish it out. Just love hearing about new ways to be more sustainable. So, I will keep it brief. Urine Diversion toilets are not the only form of sustainable sanitation. See here for more information on other EcoSans toliets. For the more visual types, here are some pictures of them as well. Note, Sustainable Sanitation has wonderful pictures on her Flickr pages of all interesting type of sanitation collection systems and methods. If you are interested in this topic, I encourage you to take a look.
- do you think urine diversion toilets will become more common place in the world?
- could it be the answer to our heavily taxed sewer systems?
- would people buy produce where urine was used as fertilizer?
- what’s our thoughts about this technology?
Photos by permission of Sustainable Sanitation.