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Festival-goers' urine proves its mettle as fertiliser

Finnish researchers report encouraging results from a project testing the use of human urine as fertiliser for grain. They say that the main obstacles remaining in the way of widespread use of this free, natural fertiliser are an efficient collection and processing system – and people's prejudices.

Keko-kuivakäymälä on yleisötapahtumien siirrettävä vessä
Different models of the porta-potties are designed to collect urine from men and women. Image: Mari Vesanummi / Yle

Researchers report encouraging preliminary results from a pilot project testing the use of human urine as fertiliser for barley. The urine was collected at festivals and other locations in 2015. This past summer it was used to fertilise test fields in Iittala and Kangasala in the Häme region of south-central Finland.

The pee was collected in purpose-built portable toilets set up at events including Tammerfest and Puntala-rock in the Tampere area and World Village and Weekend Festival in Helsinki. Some was also collected on the campus of the Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK), which is one of the Biourea project's partners along with the Global Dry Toilet Association of Finland (Huussi) and the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE).

Hygienically safe

Researchers presented the results at the Biourea project's final seminar in Tampere on Wednesday. They indicate that the barley harvest per hectare sprayed with the urine was at least as good as that treated with artificial fertiliser. The study also shows that urine usage is hygienically safe.

The only remaining concern is whether pharmaceuticals detected in the urine were carried over into the harvested grain. Preliminary data does not point to significant levels.

So far the project has divided opinions – but attracted plenty of interest. Researchers say that the main obstacles remaining in the way of widespread use of this free, natural fertiliser are an efficient collection and processing system – and people's prejudices.

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