In Brief: South African city looks to turn urine into fertilizer

JOHANNESBURG, 11 November 2010 (IRIN) – South Africa’s east coast city of Durban is looking at the feasibility of turning the urine it collects from 95,000 dry toilets into fertilizer.

Urine is rich in nutrients such as nitrates, phosphorus and potassium – vital ingredients of fertilizer, a precious commodity which has been rising sharply in price.

Durban is something of a trail-blazer in terms of planning for climate change. Aware of likely water shortages in the years ahead, it began installing dry toilets in 2005. Neil Macleod, head of water and sanitation in Durban Municipality, explained that the urine is currently piped away from the toilets and allowed to soak into the ground, but could be harvested.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided funding to conduct a feasibility study which began this week. Eawag, the Swiss aquatic research institute and the University of KwaZulu-Natal are partners in the study. The aim of the project is to put the urine to good use. “We would, of course, want someone to process the urine for us and we would like to provide the fertilizer to poor communities,” said Macleod.

Photo: Sustainable Sanitation
A waterless pit latrine in Ethiopia where ash is used as drying material to absorb moisture. Once full the toilet slab is moved to another pit while the pit is covered with earth and the feacal matter is composted