How Human Urine Can Replace Chemical Fertilizer

Farmers are using human urine as a natural, sustainable alternative to fossil-fuel-based fertilizers

Horse drawn urine applicator at Fairwinds hay farm in Vermont.

“Bring us your liquid gold,” the founders of Rich Earth Institute beckon their neighbors on their website.

The organization has collected at least 10,000 gallons of urine since 2012 and donated it to three local farms in Vermont.

Fairwinds Farm, Wild Carrot farm, and Whetstone Valley Farm are part of a grand experiment to see whether urine can replace synthetic fertilizer on a mass scale.

So far, the experiment is a wild success, with farmers on a waiting list to receive donations and hay fields growing greener than ever:

Fairwinds farm hay field. The greener strips have been fertilized with urine.

Urine contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — NPK — essential plant nutrients that are typically mined from the earth (as byproducts of oil and natural gas) and made into fertilizer to replace what agriculture strips from the soil.

“The urine one person produces annually contains enough fertilizer to grow nearly a whole year’s supply of food,” Rich Earth founders Kim Nace and Abraham Noe-Hays claim.

Adults produce between 100 and 150 gallons of urine per year, containing about 9 pounds of nitrogen, 2 pounds of potassium and a pound of phosphorus. This is enough to grow grain for a loaf of bread every day of the year, according to Rich Earth’s research.

Farming is impossible without large amounts of these three minerals, Rich Earth says, and because modern practices strip them from the soil, they must be replaced.

The way they are currently being replaced is entirely unsustainable.

The nitrogen used in commercial fertilizers is synthesized in a process fueled by natural gas, a fossil fuel, which now is increasingly derived using the controversial practice of fracking.

The phosphorus comes from the mined rock phosphate, a non-renewable resource. High-quality reserves are gradually and steadily being depleted. Rich Earth says along with “peak oil,” we’re now entering a period of “peak phosphorus.”

The potash that’s being mined for potassium is also a non-renewable, depleting resource.

So why not do what humans and other animals have done for millions of years — recycle the nutrients from our waste back into the soil? Not only does the practice replenish the soil, it keeps the nutrients out of waterways, where they don’t belong.

Urine typically passes through wastewater treatment plants into rivers, lakes, and bays. In the aquatic environment, excess nutrients (particularly nitrogen and phosphorus) can cause destructive algae blooms that eliminate oxygen from the water.

“This kills fish and other aquatic creatures, causes foul odors that make recreation impossible, and renders the water unfit for human consumption,” it says on Rich Earth’s website.

“In the Northeast,  this is a major problem in areas including Cape Cod, the Great Bay, and Long Island Sound, where nutrient loading regularly creates dead zones and severely damages aquatic ecosystems.”

Rich Earth recently received an $800,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to further test the practicality of using urine to fertilize crops on a larger scale.

The institute is also interested in using human fecal matter — aka humanure — to fertilize crops, but that will require much more work, as it is more likely to contain pathogens. Urine from healthy humans is sterile.

For information on how to fertilize your own garden with urine, Rare Earth has some recommended reading: Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants


30 responses to “How Human Urine Can Replace Chemical Fertilizer”

  1. Diane Avatar

    Very interesting!

  2. Rusty Gordon Avatar
    Rusty Gordon

    Would this work for a family garden?

  3. PW Rogers Avatar
    PW Rogers

    Uhhhh… you can’t be serious. This post should be removed in its current writing. Human urine contains massive quantities of un-metabolized antibiotics, sedatives, antidepressants and pesticides. Many of which are already polluting rivers and water supplies because they can’t be screened and removed during the water treatment process.

    1. Little Redhead Homestead Avatar

      I think it’s great for personal garden use if you’re not on any of these things. Just interesting to know!

    2. Greta Avatar

      Thank you for speaking up. I was horrified with the amount of Meds being processed through the body and dumped into our water supply. Just think of how concentrated it will become in the land. There is data the deep sea fishes far from any land mass. has substantual amounts of Viagra in them. Where are we headed?

    3. Vicki Rigsby Avatar
      Vicki Rigsby

      If using the urine of your own family, you know what is or isn’t in it. If you eat organic or sustainably grown foods and take an occasional aspirin, I think this is an amazing idea.

    4. Pam Avatar

      Depends on what the people eat and if they are healthy. This is perfect for Organic farmers who tend to be Organic themselves.

    5. Carol Avatar

      Currently farmers do use sewage to fertilize in many places. They are supposed to disc it under for one year but no one really watches. In Chicago since my childhood(decades ago) farmers have lined up for sludge at sewage plants. I don’t know what, if anything they do to remove chemicals from flushed household cleaners. These things are in the drinking water as well. You are probably already consuming them. Probably have been for years.

    6. Anna Zander Avatar
      Anna Zander

      It only contains massive amounts of that if that’s what went into it. (Unmetabolized?) Also, studies show that most of this stuff dissimilates in biologically active oil (not as much in clay). Why would pesticides be in urine?
      What’s mostly polluting rivers is nitrogen from human excreta and runoff.

      1. Karen Yochim Avatar
        Karen Yochim

        Then how come dogs lifting their leg on our plants can kill them? I don’t let mine but they keep trying to.

        1. Jeanne Barnett Avatar

          Dog urine is much more acidic than human urine.

    7. Dawnita Avatar

      I lived in the Po Valley of Italy for a few years. It is an agricultural center for Italy and the European Union. It was not uncommon for farmers to fertilize their fields with a liquid created from their septic tank. They would spray it over the fields using tanker trucks and a large hose. When they were spraying the fields, it would smell sort of like packaged microwaved popcorn.

      We took a little extra care in washing our vegetables that we got from the local vegetable stand, but those were some of the best and freshest vegetables and fruit that we have ever had. Certainly better than the junk we get in our local grocery stores.

    8. shirley ksmith Avatar
      shirley ksmith

      Have you ever heard of using urine for jelly fish stings etc? God made a great and marvelous thing when he created us. Most people who “organic” garden are concerned over the health of their families. Like myself and my husband most people aren’t using all the drugs you spoke of and we want to be /remain free of them WE are certainly aware of what not to put in our gardens and the marvelous way the circle of life works.

  4. Trish Avatar

    Great read!

  5. MartinM Avatar

    I understood using women’s urine could be a problem for garden veg because of the oestrogen levels. Is that correct?

  6. John Laughlin Avatar

    Isn’t there a danger from hormones and antibiotics from urine being taken up by plants?

    1. Jenn Avatar

      If you are on antibiotics, you should not use your urine for this. I do not know the effects on the plants but the antibiotics, some of it, will pass into urine. But you know when you are taking these, so just don’t use your pee from that time frame. Besides you are also sick, don’t use your pee when you have an infection either. Other nastier things end up in your pee when you are sick, even with a cold.

      As far as hormones, I don’t know. Someone else will have to answer that part.

  7. nancy horgan Avatar
    nancy horgan

    please respond to the above questions and concerns—it’s essential to spread as much correct information as possible !

  8. shots Avatar

    In my area we have used human fertilizer from sewage plants to re-green our mountain which was ruined from fires and pollution from local processing plant… the mountain is green now which has not been seen since I was a youngster
    I am now 63

    1. shirley ksmith Avatar
      shirley ksmith

      Nice great work!

  9. John McCulloch Avatar
    John McCulloch

    The epitome of organic. Why not if you’re NOT ingesting any artificial chemicals or hormones? Free organic fertilizer, it’s a no-brainer.

  10. Ken Avatar

    One must be careful, drugs taken go through our system and come out of our body. If you take blood pressure medication for example it comes out in your urine. If you use the urine as fertilizer the plants will absorb the medication and falsely medicate the people eating the food.
    Europe is having this problem with ground water.

  11. Belinda Avatar

    Vegan and no meds in my urine…I will sell you my urine

    1. shirley ksmith Avatar
      shirley ksmith

      Yes! hahahaha

  12. Holdread Avatar

    What’s the ratio folks use for large container gardening? I’ve heard 10 pts H2O to Urine, has anyone had luck with higher percentage? Does the content change when the urine is stored for a few weeks in a covered container? I’m a desert person and I’m thrilled with the water saved when we don’t flush for fluids daily. Lots of clean water saved. Yea Of course we should use only healthy peoples urine.

    1. Holdread Avatar

      I’ve used urine as a compost activator for years. I soak the dried brown material before layering it in the compost. Makes for hot composting fast especially when I use mesquite pods and leaves.

  13. Ethelyn Schaeffer Avatar

    Urine left in a container is definately not sterile anymore, even if refrigerated.
    I am FOR using it but it needs to be used immediately like nature intended …deposited immediately into the ground to feed a plant.
    It also has drugs in it and urinary infections occasionally.
    It is funny we say that “fertilizers have depleted the land”. Instead it should be said that we are not REPLACING our own residues after eating to feed the land. This is a sin to our earth and the One who made it.
    Again, I’m for the NATURAL way of immediate deposit on your own land.

    1. shirley ksmith Avatar
      shirley ksmith

      Great article! Get off meds people and use your land and your urine and your power to make a change.

  14. Karen Yochim Avatar
    Karen Yochim

    Then how come dogs lifting their leg on our plants can kill them? I don’t let mine but they keep trying to.