The most nutrient-rich but poorly recycled fraction of domestic wastewater is human urine. If it is collected and treated separately, urine can be safely recycled as fertilizer to crops. About one-quarter of the nitrogen and phosphorus demand in agriculture globally can be met by human urine-derived nutrients. However, large scale recycling of human urine is hindered by many barriers —technological, health, socio-cultural, economic, environmental, and institutional.
The goal of the project FoodsecURe is to systematically address these barriers and mainstream human urine. Over a four-year project involving 17 partners from Norway, Ethiopia and Sweden, the project will meet the following objectives:
(i) to overcome technological barriers, a communal-scale system for collection and safe conversion of human urine to solid fertilisers will be developed to validate the technology alkaline dehydration;
(ii) to address human health and safety barriers, the fertiliser will be co-tested with smallholder farmers growing local crops in Ethiopia, with focus on crop quality and fate of disease-causing microorganisms and micropollutants;
(iii) to overcome socio-cultural and barriers, willingness and behavioural intentions of different actors including cultural taboos and phobias will be analysed;
(iv) to overcome institutional and economic barriers, new sustainable business models will be developed; and
(v) to overcome participatory and communication barriers, science-policy-stakeholder linkages will be strengthened.
Human urine contains essential nutrients (e.g., nitrogen and phosphorus) required for plant growth. Hence, urine can serve as a “free” and locally available nutrient source. Successful, low-cost urine-diverting toilets (UDTs) that separately collect urine have been developed in Scandinavia and in Europe and are being manufactured at large-scale in Africa.
There exists many barriers to urine recycling at scale. The important initial steps for increased use of urine as a fertilizer (UBF) are to understand the technical, socio-cultural, economic, institutional and ecological aspects that affect large-scale adoption of UDTs, urine treatment technologies, and UBFs; provide evidence-based data that shows urine is safe in terms of heavy metals, pathogens, and organic micropollutants; and identify optimal combinations strategies to sustain adoption in the long term.
FoodSecURe will be implemented and will utilize the already existing UDTs in communal public areas in Bahir-Dar, Ethiopia. Due to lack of technology and limited awareness of users, government and institutions, these UDTs were used inappropriately, and no UBF has been produced from the UDTs. The project will be conducted through 6 work packages (WPs): WP0 focuses on the project management. WPs 1-4 focus on identifying the barriers in the adoption of urine recycling based on technology (WP1), health (WP2), socio-culture and environment (WP3), and economic and institutions (WP4). The dissemination, exploitation and communication activities are in WP5. The various tasks are implemented through a multi-disciplinary and multi-actor approach by scientists specializing in social sciences, business management, agronomy, parasitology, environmental engineering, environmental science, and soil science. A Stakeholder Advisory Committee will be created to strengthen science-policy-stakeholder linkages and ensure that the technical and socio-economic solutions identified in the project match the stakeholders’ needs.