BRATTLEBORO — It's beginning to feel like winter. Maple trees are busy storing starches to become sap, tiny microorganisms are nestled beneath fallen leaves, composting nutrients into the soil, and large tanks of pee are sitting outside the Rich Earth Institute, waiting for spring to fertilize fields of hay. In the new year, the Rich Earth Institute hopes locals will join in the nation's only Urine Nutrient Reclamation Program.
Saving pee in Brattleboro prevents nitrogen from polluting the Connecticut River watershed and helps to mitigate harmful algal blooms in the Long Island Sound, according to Rich Earth. These nutrients are then available for use on local farms. With additional funding from NFWF's Long Island Sound Futures Fund, Rich Earth Institute is preparing to grow operations and now has the capacity to double the number of peecycling participants.
With its patent-pending freeze concentration technology, Rich Earth is preparing to concentrate vast amounts of urine into more easily storable volumes. A proof of concept unit was installed at the University of Michigan this fall, and Rich Earth is creating a version 2.0 for use at its headquarters in Brattleboro. This will increase storage capacity even further, allowing the company to process the pee of even more people.
Since Rich Earth began in 2012, the company has saved more than 1.2 million gallons of potable drinking water by not flushing toilets. Rich Earth estimates it will have collected over 9,000 gallons of pee in 2019 alone.
The increasing volume has enabled the company to add two new farms to the program this year. Among all four of the farm partners, demand for urine-derived fertilizer exceeds supply. The Rich Earth Institute therefore welcomes people who are ready to begin in their own home by removing urine from the wastestream and re-valuing it as a local resource. More than150 individuals have already donated their urine to this grassroots effort.
Becoming a donor is as easy as getting a collection system and either dropping off your pee at the Rich Earth Urine Depot, at 122 Birge St., or signing up for the home pump-out program. For participants interested in the home pump-out program, permanent urine diverting toilets are available. Rich Earth completed internal testing of these fixtures at its research institute and is ready to begin installing this as an ecological sanitation package for local homes.