The Market for Urine

When I toured the ancient ruins of Pompeii some years ago, one of the sites we visited was a public laundry facility in which patrons used to wash their clothes in – of all things – human urine. The business purchased urine from local residents for use in the shop. While this struck me as rather problematic (wouldn’t the clothes stink later?) apparently the odour was mitigated by drying them on a flat roof in full sunlight.

According to this article, the ancients used urine for other purposes too, including making toothpaste. Portuguese urine apparently commanded a higher price than Italian, because it was believed to be stronger and better at whitening teeth. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

What fascinated me, however, was that a substance we modern people consider a distasteful waste product, and will pay to get rid of, was under different circumstances regarded as a useful commodity that people would pay good money to obtain.

Since then, I’ve stumbled across a few other circumstances in which the price of urine was above zero. At one time (but no longer), horse urine was used in the production of Harris Tweed, the famous woollen fabric woven in Scotland.

Indeed, the urine of pregnant mares is still used in producing hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women. The drug Premarin indicates this by truncating the words “pregnant mare urine” in its very name.

A few years ago, competitive athletes who feared that drug tests would reveal their use of illegal substances were reportedly purchasing “clean” urine samples that they could substitute for their own. There’s even a company today that, with no apparent embarrassment, sells synthetic “ultra pure” urine (also called “fake pee”) to people facing screening.

Lately, newspapers have been publishing stories about looming shortages of nitrogen fertilizer, which are expected to result in devastating reductions of crop yields. China, normally one of the world’s major producers and exporters of nitrogen fertilizer, has stopped or reduced production at many factories, purportedly in order to save electricity.

Christian Westbrook, who blogs and podcasts as the Ice Age Farmer, has been reporting panic and even rioting among many farmers around the world, as supplies of fertilizer vanish from the market.

Even mainstream media are now reporting on anticipated shortages of urea, which might result in Australia having no trucks on the road, and no beer in the stores, within a few months.

The time may soon be upon us when the value of human urine in the marketplace will once again be above zero. Provided that it’s not contaminated with prescription drugs, antibiotic-resistant bacteria or heavy metals, urine makes great fertilizer. The world needn’t go without grains, vegetables, or beer even if many fertilizer factories shut down. The marketplace just needs to gear up to follow the example set by the citizens of Pompeii, who arranged for places where individuals could drop off their contributions and be paid for them.

I studied up on the use of urine as fertilizer at the beginning of the lockdowns in March, 2020 when I was just starting to plant my garden but wasn’t permitted to go to the garden supply centre to buy anything to nourish my seedlings.

Having long been interested in organic gardening, I’d read occasional articles over the years discussing the use of urine as fertilizer. Now was the time to take a look at some of the recipes. According to Mother Earth News, you simply dilute urine with 19 parts water and that’s all there is to it. Other recipes say the ratio is only 1:10. It might depend on how well hydrated you keep yourself.

The University of Michigan says that you might need to “age” your urine for 12 – 16 months in order to break down any antibiotic-resistant organisms in it.

I haven’t taken antibiotics for many years, so I was pretty sure my pee wouldn’t contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I take no prescription drugs. I’ve avoided tuna and other mercury-contaminated fish, as well as vaccinations (the pre-COVID ones frequently contained mercury or aluminum adjuvants). I eat primarily organic and nutrient dense foods, so I figured my pee would probably be not only uncontaminated but also rich in other minerals and nutrients besides nitrogen.

Sure enough, it worked like a charm. My garden grew better than it ever had. If fertilizer shortages do occur, I won’t fear them. I’m producing my own fertilizer every day, far more than I need.

As disaster after disaster strikes the planet – some accidental, some the result of bureaucratic stupidity and some possibly deliberately engineered – it will be good for people to know that they don’t have to accept “But there’s a fertilizer shortage!” as a death knell.

Grow your own gardens, folks – and piss on them.

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