Segregating urine

Too much nutrient in wastewater can lead to serious water pollution. The nutrients act as food for micro-organisms and algae who use up dissolved oxygen in the water when they metabolize them. When oxygen levels go too low -- when the stream or river or pond "goes anaerobic" -- new micro-organisms predominate, ones that don't use oxygen as their final electron acceptor but use other oxidizing agents. Many use sulfur compounds, and when these become reduced by the transferred electrons they produce hydrogen sulfide, the rotten egg odor. Hydrogen sulfide not only smells bad. It is quite toxic.

It turns out one of the major sources of nutrients in domestic wastewater nowadays is ordinary human urine. Not that human urine these days is so ordinary. It's rich in lots of things besides normal body waste, among them megadoses of vitamins, lots of pharmaceutical agents and antibiotics, hormones from oral contraceptives and lots of other things we ingest and then excrete through our kidneys. Only 1% of wastewater volume, urine is 50% - 80% of the nutrient load by some estimates. Removing the stuff that urine adds is a major burden for wastewater treatment plants.

One strategy now being suggested is to treat the urine separately. How do you do that? With a new kind of toilet, called the NoMix:

. . . wastes collected at the back of the bowl are flushed into the sewers with water in the nomal manner. In the front compartment, urine is collected and drained with a small amount of flushing water -- or undiluted -- into a local storage tank. (ScienceDaily)

Here's a pic:


Here's some more of the story from ScienceDaily, adapted from a Press Release (you have been warned!) from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, promoters of the idea:

Ideally, treatment should permit recycling of nutrients as fertilizers and, at the same time, removal of problematic micropollutants. For example, 98% of the phosphorus in urine can be recovered by precipitation with magnesium. The product - struvite - is an attractive fertilizer, free of pharmaceuticals and hormones. In Switzerland, nutrients from human urine could serve as substitutes for at least 37% of the nitrogen and 20% of the phosphorus demand that is currently met by imported artificial fertilizers

I wonder if the design is gender neutral?

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NO WAY is a guy going to hit that teeny target for urine. Heck, I just now cleaned the floor and underside of toilet seat and lid...again for the thousandth time.

I don't know whether women could do it either.

By flutracker (not verified) on 09 Mar 2007 #permalink

The design is Not gender neutral. Won't elaborate on that either.

Two separate toilets are necessary if this is what they want to do.

From what I've read, the inventor wants it to become gender-neutral by "re-educating" men and boys. More likely to promote the separating toilet's adoption, though lacking the radical/transgressive chic of sitzpinkeln, would be some sort of deflector that would come down when the seat was raised, effectively turning it into a urinal. Mechanical engineering is generally easier than social engineering.

Composting toilets are a big deal in many places, especially Vietnam. I've even seen them in densely populated cities in the US, although they violate most plumbing codes. They do take up quite a lot of room, though, and they are very heavy. They also take a year or so to "mature." But they are an interesting technology for a lot of places and beat water carriage in many ways.

Gender neutral? Only if males sit down to pee.

An simple way to start using that tech, requiring no behavior changes or acceptance from any user, would be to put the urine storing/recycling devices in the men's urinals in public restrooms. Once installed, they would be completely unobtrusive.

Speaking as a man who has no choice but to sit down when he pees I would like to assure my fellow males that it has not affected my potency nor changed my sexual orientation. On the plus side, I no longer have to worry about soaking my trousers with that last dribble. The only drawback is that I can no longer write my initials in snow.

Now you will remember to raise the seat, now wont you?

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 10 Mar 2007 #permalink

I hope this design doesn't depend on the two products staying strictly segregated. Humans come in many sizes, and use the toilet in different ways. Little kids are often afraid of falling in, so they straddle the seat backwards. Older Asians feel that one cannot properly evacuate the bowels unless squatting, so they squat on the seat. And how does the bowl-hugger with a hangover approach the new toilet?

I'd be less worried about getting the urine in its compartment than about getting the, um, other bits in the rear compartment. Sorry to be crude, but think about it. It looks like you have to sit really upright and hope for the best. Also, what if you have to vomit? Yuck.

I realize that things are different in populated parts of the country, but out here in the sticks we do things the simple way. Pee in a 5 gallon bucket (old toilet seat for one gender, nothing for the other). Dilute it with water, pour around your plants, watch your plants grow. For the solid waste check out The Humanure Handbook - printed but also made available for free on the web (by a generous author who is passionate - but funny - about hummanure
Also simple - buckets and leaves or sawdust and a well tended compost pile to heat it and turn it into fertilizer. Amazingly one can make one's bathroom deposit, cover it with a handful of leaves AND IT DOES NOT SMELL - even if it takes a week to fill the bucket up. Simple and it works. Why people built smelly buggy outhouses all those years when they could do this I continue to wonder about. But again not something city slickers can do. BUT if we have in case your water is out sometime you might want to read this for temporary handling of piss and shit. The issue of pathogens is addressed particularily in chapter 6 his section on FECOPHOBIA AND THE PATHOGEN ISSUE

The cycle of nature does not have waste - everything gets used and is useful to something. Feces and urine become food for dung bettles, worms, fertilizer for plants. Dead bodies release their nutrients for new life. We humans are living out of balance and it has worked for a time, but it is working less and less and we will pay a price for thinking that we are above nature, for being unable to deal with our our body wastes, for flushing them out of sight and smell and letting them become someone else's problem downstream.

K-I dont know how far out in the boonies you are but if you have electricity then dumping raw sewage onto plants is generally regarded as a crime in nearly all of the civilized world. It most certainly is not an approved method of disposal of human waste regardless of what your boy writes. Pee is not excluded from the definition and can carry all sorts of pathogens into the environment not to mention solid waste. Fecal coliforms, heavy metals, human concentrated bad things all come out the rear and front of everyone. Even the sludge from wastewater treatment plants is now being scrutinized as it was to be the fertilizer of the future. You need to get that stuff into at least a septic tank and raise yourself about 3 feet above that nature you speak of because it carries hepatitis A, polio, typhoid just to name a few.

You are poisoning the environment and you consider it to be organic. Its the reason people are arrested after notification that what they are doing is illegal. Every state has a law about this type of thing and an approval process for your situation. I bet you dont advertise the fact that you are doing it. I suggest you quit dropping that stuff into something you think thats good after a turn or two for compost or adding water to it and dumping it onto the ground and get with the real facts. Nearly every shellfish area out there is under assault from pesticides, untreated sewage and in some cases treated sewage. Reefs are dying and they wouldnt be if it werent for us in most cases. Chesapeake Bay has some 300,000 failing septic tank systems which at least partially treat the stuff dropped into them. They contain pee and sludge-all bad for the environment. You on the other hand are simply dropping it onto the ground for someone else downstream of you to deal with. What? You think that everyone should just go pee in a new toilet and that takes care of fertilizer needs? Not hardly. It creates a whole new set of problems.

Fecal coliform is killed by the sun, not by composting. Its anaerobic bacteria and most of those are bad. You dump wet or damp shit into the evironment and it washes downstream somewhere. Pee is the same and you are making someone else sick. If you get a scratch while swimming in it you have a good chance of getting sick. That doesnt take into account what you get in your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, urethra, and butt. Yeaks K-Dont get snowed by this one with the universe stuff and living organic because in many cases your cure by culture is someone elses cancer.

Pee has one hell of a lot of other stuff in it which is bad. Recycling pee should be reviewed of course as a possible answer but it too could provide a terrible pathway back to humans and other animals in growth hormones from milk, Tamiflu (remember that one?), viruses and bacteria that are already in that pee (sick people). Viruses and bacteria that can grow in someones bladder certainly are not going to falter too much from you running a little water in with it unless its treated with bleach at the very least.

By M. Randolph Kruger; (not verified) on 11 Mar 2007 #permalink

Yea Gads MRK, better get on over to Wikipedia and correct them - "Urine is sterile the second it is expelled from a human. Therefore fresh urine can be used to clean wounds in emergencies, when no alternatives are available. Urine only becomes contaminated when it has been standing for a time"

Lets see you said heat doesn't kill fecal coliform - lets get busy and revise all those instructions to boil water if it is or could be contaminated. I remember that when the North East Grid went down the water treatment centers went down - they were advising boiling water - hmmm bad advice I guess since heat won't kill those fecal coliforms.

Where in my post did you get the idea that I was putting raw sewage on my plants? My compost works for at least 2 years before being used anywhere. Composting toilets are approved in many locations - this is a simple version but works the same way.
The author lists the regulations in various states about composting toilets, including alternative ones - apparently you are unaware of

I note on that link you gave me that it says that we should bag pet waste and put it in the garbage - right - and what happens then, goes into some land fill, and untreated runs off. How many people do you think regularly bag their pet waste? Oh I forget you city folks are just plumb crazy, you probably do.

Since I mostly eat food that doesn't have pesticides and other such crap, my crap doesn't have them either. Betcha never thought of that did you? As a matter of fact, I don't eat commercial meat (or Peanut Butter, or Spinach, or bagged lettuce) so I don't infect myself with the nasty bugs you are so worried about. I also don't get sick and thus don't pick up the nasties the hospitals are full of.

Please don't ever go camping or swiming in a lake or pond - did you know that wild animals are out there defecating and urinating and fish doing the same, not to mention turtles etc.

Why not use your venom for Smithfield foods and their pig shit lagoons or the animal feedlots that are breeding highly pathogenic bugs in the stomach of cows, or the cities that from time to time into rivers that others use for drinking water (Fulton Sewage Treatment Spills Anger Cobb Officials (By Charles Seabrook) Angry Cobb County water authorities said Monday they were not properly notified of huge spills into the Chattahoochee River from a north Fulton County sewage treatment plant that forced them to more than double the amount of chlorine used to treat drinking water drawn from the river. About 600,000 gallons of partially treated sewage spewed into the river from the Big Creek waste water treatment plant in the first of several illegal spills that began March 7. The latest occurred last Thursday, and state environmental officials were checking Monday to determine if additional unlawful discharges occurred over the weekend.)…

What are you going to do when the oil runs out and the water systems fail- Hold it? Oh I forgot we have tons of oil and the good life will never end. Dream on MRK dream on.

Randy and K: Jeez. Where to start? Urine isn't sterile as soon as it leaves the body. In fact it isn't sterile at all. You can grow lots of stuff out of it because the human urinary tract is colonized. There is a warning on the Wikipedia entry that it doesn't meet standards. It is full of errors. E. coli is mostly aerobic, not anaerobic (although it is a facultative anaerobe). But fecal coliforms are not just E. coli. They are a collection of organisms indicating the presence of the intestinal contents of warm blooded animals. Dumping human waste in the environment is commonly practiced in the US. It's called a septic system and it works pretty well. Composting toilets are safe because they generate a great deal of heat that kills pathogens. Same as sanitary landfills. Etc. The blind leading the blind, I'd say.

I wrote a long post with a lot of links and it failed to post, so I will try again without all the links

First of all I guess you better set Wikipedia straight = under urine they state "Urine is sterile the second it is expelled from a human. Therefore fresh urine can be used to clean wounds in emergencies, when no alternatives are available. Urine only becomes contaminated when it has been standing for a time"

Secondly- "Compost from a typical composting toilet usually does not achieve a very high temperature, so that some pathogens may still be alive in the compost. The pathogens can be killed by composting in an outdoor pile. The temperature is raised to a sufficiently high level by soil microorganisms for a long enough period of time: 150F (65C) for an hour, 120F (50C) for 24 hours or 115F (46C) for a week (Fig. 1)." This indicates that an outdoor pile is superior and can in fact kill pathogens in fecal material. I am not going to do the link since they don't usually work for me but this is from ASPI Technical Series TP 41 - Appalachia -- Science in the Public Interest

Third, where in my post did you see that I said I applied raw fecal matter to any plants. My compost works and sits for a minimum of 2 years. Since I dump the pee daily I consider it sterile per all the sites I could find on the web therefore I don't consider it raw sewage.

Fourth, if you want to get upset about something, get upset about baby diapers in public trash cans. Get upset about Smithfield foods lagoons of pig shit that have spilled over from time to time. Get upset about cities like Atlanta that have regular spills of massive amounts of untreated sewage. Get upset about animal feedlots and overuse of antibiotics in domestic livestock. This is where the current bunch of lethals have been evolving (oh yeah and hospitals too). If you want to worry about getting sick, worry about commercial food - Peanut butter - spinach - bagged lettuce etc. Worry about the farmers who want to get the most out of the immigrant labor and don't offer adequate toilets and breaks.

Fifth - if I eat foods that don't have pesticides etc on them I can't excrete that stuff in my urine or feces

Six - If you will check Appendix 3 of the Humanure Handbook you will find an extensive listing by state of regulations regarding composting toilets.

Seventh - If you will check the Awards link on the Humanure site you will see a list of awards some of which are
'Humanure' an #1 Category Bestseller Two Years Running, ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year finalist; Finalist in the Ben Franklin Awards for Excellence in Publishing ,THE TEN OUTSTANDING BOOKS OF THE YEAR:
Most Likely To Save the Planet: The Humanure Handbook (2nd Edition), by Joseph Jenkins - Funny that they give this man awards rather than arresting him.

Finally, I take care to prevent runoff from my compost piles although we don't have creeks anywhere near our piles. I keep tabs on each pile and wait a minium of 2 years after completing each pile before using it. We are rural and our neighbors are not close - they are however mostly on city water - chlorinated river water that hopefully has all the upstream waste adequately removed though I doubt it. I can't remember the last time I was sick although I have been doing this for 10 years. We have a lovely healthy garden with tasty produce.

And no matter how hard we try to think we can be 3 feet above nature in the end we are 6 feet under nature - every one of us. We are natural beings and denying that is ruining the world we need to survive. People who live like I do are not the ones ruining the planet.

Sorry Revere for my double post - the first didn't appear until I posted the second. Sorry for my aggressive tone as well.

In fact I checked back with the humanure site on the urine and he does mention diseases that can be carried in urine at
I stand corrected.
I will adapt and run the urine through the humanure if and when I get sick with any of those diseases, in the meantime I am sure that pee at the base of a plant as fertilizer is safe (I don't use any manure or pee around plants that I will eat raw BTW).

Perhaps you can update Wikipedia.

There are quite a number of people in the world who drink urine as therapy. Also people resort to drinking urine when there is no water available. Is there any data on these people getting sick from pathogens in the urine?

K. No problem. Note that sterile means no living things. It doesn't mean no pathogens. Most urine doesn't have pathogens if the person who excreted it doesn't have a urinary tract infection. It definitely has lots of living organisms, the ones that are colonizing the urinary tract. Nor is it possible to develop them on standing, since we no longer (since the 17th century) believe in spontaneous generation. The Wikipedia entry on urine is seriously deficient but for me to correct it would take more time than I have. It is plastered with a warning, so people are en guard. I find Wikipedia extremely useful and refer to it often, but like any reference source it needs to be used with reasonable care. The same is true of newspapers and many other info sources. I have on occasion made corrections to Wikipedia and of course helped to found the Flu Wiki, so I believe it is useful.

It has been some years since I have examined composting toilets like the Swedish Clivus Multrum, but my recollection is that they do kill pathogens by their heat. The compost is not sterile but it is pathogen free. Abby Rockefeller had one in her house which I saw.

I'm not sure at whom your comment was directed, but I am also seriously concerned about baby diapers in landfills. They are loaded with virus, including live polio virus. Drinking urine as therapy is probably harmless in most instances, although for those who are dehydrated it can be fatal. People do a lot of things, many of them nonsensical and that is one of them, IMHO.

K, bagging pet waste has become a dire necessity, with bylaws and fines actually enforced, in most cities. People take their pets for walks, including toilet break, in parks. People must pick up any "solid waste". There is a trick to picking, using a plastic grocerybag as a glove, and pulling the bag inside out. My city provides and empties numerous receptacles in parks.. people don't seem to mind taking their pets home, but they refuse to take their pets' fesces. At least the parks don't _look_ like sewers.

Yeah, I know it is not bright to have pets in cities, nor nice to the captive animals, but the owners are very much as owned as the pets.

K-unless your composting methods are approved by permit as all septic tanks and sewer systems are then you could be singled out as a point source polluter. I am sure you have lots of neighbors who crap in the compost heap but you wouldnt be doing it in Tennessee or at all in this county. Their regulations in most states say anywhere running water is available that you cant have one. This was a result of the local commune came down not with polio thank God but Type A Hepatitis. Your guy who is writing books has an idea, but likely not a permit. Same with the pigs and Atlanta. Pig and poultry farms are polluters but they have permits to do so and methods to restrain the drain. Atlanta, well they just dont give a shit, sorry for the pun. They pay I read 40,000 a day in fines to the federal government rather than cleaning it up. Why? Because its cheaper to just pay the fine than it is to fix it.

Baby diapers represent a singular threat to the environment and its bad enough having to change a kid. Reusuable diapers are a thing of the past now I think.

Where you live may be different but I I cant imagine a family of four and the amount of stuff they generate in sludge and pee going into a composting. How do you know when its safe? You said you keep tabs on it. How can you be sure its safe? You would just about need a test and to keep stringent records. If someone gets sick you would still have to defend yourself else, remember the most important thing about a lawsuit-you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent.

Military covered it pretty well. Slit trench and a board or two logs across it. Lime and then cover. Or the high tech toilets were seats in a privy (multi seat of course) and it would go into a 55 gallon drum that would be filled with 5 gallons of diesel fuel each day and burned for three hours. Sludge remaining was considered to be safe, but was still thrown into a slit trench then limed, covered over anyway.

Vegetables? Not me. I turbo-burn my leaves which leaves a good residue and I turn that under each year in fall. I would submit though K that you are playing with a legal liablity problem. If anyone turns up with Hep, typhoid and/or polio you are going to have to prove your doo and pee didnt dooo the deed. God help you if they found bacteria in your pile that could cause it. The law would be on their side.

My brother had polio. Got it from the next door neighbor whose daughter had it. She had no contact with him but they had a septic tank and we were on sewer. He hadnt been out of the house but once in the 55-57 outbreak as a three year old and he walked over and picked up a ball in their damp ground. They raised monkeys and thats how the girl got it. Sick monkey from Africa. They were all put down. It just about put my brother down too.

As for putting pee on a wound or drinking it, it was in the Joint Services Medical Field manual until 1986 when AIDs/HIV turned up. Big black bold letters now state that under no circumstances should it be consumed or put on wounds of anykind. Polio is alive and well on this planet and it only takes one mistake. You might think that this is a good idea but at least put it into a septic tank and field lines.

So I guess the question is where you live and whether you have a permit or not to do what you are doing? Mind I dont take personal barbs at anyone here so keep it in mind. Its not a slam to say you might make yourself or someone else sick. We know that can happen. On the other hand, you might have to prove you didnt if someone does. Even Revere likely prefers sewage treatement in a septic tank at the minimum to this. Revere?

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 11 Mar 2007 #permalink

I'm on the side of "use a septic tank or an approved-design composting toilet."

Agreed, disposable diapers are a huge health hazard. When I was a kid, there was a "diaper service" that provided a "diaper pail", which was a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and a deodorizer under the lid. Dirty diapers went into the pail. The diaper service came around in a large van, removed the diaper pails, and provided sanitized diapers as often as needed. Presumably if you were out with your baby and had to change diapers, you put the dirty ones in a plastic bag and took them home to put in the diaper pail.

As for pet poop in cities, there's no good answer for that one except possibly separate containers in parks and other public places, the contents of which would be incinerated or properly composted.

Back to toilets for a moment. Would you pour yourself a beverage from a pitcher held a couple of feet above the glass? Hell no, because even if you didn't miss the glass, the splatters would get on your clothes. Urinating from a standing position, even when your "aim" is perfect, produces plenty of droplets that land on adjancent walls and on the toilet including the raised seat. Peeing while standing up is useful when hiking in the woods but that's about all. Guys, learn how to sit down when you pee. It doesn't hurt, and it won't turn you into a girl. But it will reduce the prevalence of pathogenic splatter on your bathroom walls.

Aerosolized fecal pathogens are also a problem from flushing the toilet with the lid up. Seats and lids should be designed such that, when closed, they are airtight or nearly so, and they should be made of hard plastic (not wood, and most especially not "hide the crud" woodgrain finish, yech!).

This stuff will be more than an abstraction as we move further into the era of widespread antibiotic resistant pathogens, not to mention the economic effects of peak oil and other resource crises.

Want to do a science project as my kid did? We totally disinfected the bathroom with bleach. Floors, walls, mirrors, light switches, everything. Took swab samples for the petri dishes. Then we left it for a day, chlorine smelling for the entire day. Tooks swabs again, and then for every day after for three days. By the end of the third day, we petried the last sample. There was very little on the second day that grew, but on the third day it was alive. Hate to think what grows on the way to the compost heap with a bucket of sludge or pee.

Now theres a reason to use a my bathroom.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 12 Mar 2007 #permalink

Randy: Actually it's a good reason not to use a nuke anywhere. You are still alive and you have been using that bathroom for I don't know how long. Your skin is alive with bacteria. Try culturing a bit of toothpaste. And you didn't get most of them since you used only one culture medium and you did it aerobically. The world is alive.