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back to article 'Smear agricultural land with human poo'

Aptly named UK organic farming organisation The Soil Association has called for the human race to use much more of its own poo to assist food production - in an effort to stave off a new eco menace that the charity has dubbed "peak phosphorus". According to the organics group, "peak phosphorus" represents nothing less than a " …

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Joke

Ass Soil ?

That has a "ring" to it !

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Anonymous Coward

Where does the Phosphorous go?

Surely these phosphates just end up floating about in the water or in a waste treatment plant byproduct tank?

Why not harvest them from those sources? It doesn't involve any changes to EU legislation, and if you managed to turn out commercial quantities at commercially viable prices then you could make a lot of money!

I'd bet any process that could turn out (say) 500,000 tonnes of phosphorous annually would also create a load of useful by-products, produce useful jobs and further the need for hugely space-efficient Nuclear Power

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Boffin

Currently

Phosphates from agricultural run-off (and to a lesser extent, waste from sewerage processing) ends up in rivers, and, eventually, the sea, where it leads to several environmental problems, such as algal blooms, growths of toxic cyanobacteria, and eutrophication. I'd guess the reason that this happens is that it's cheaper to dig it out of the ground than to retrieve it from the environment. When the copst/benefit ratio changes in favour of extracting it from seawater, that's what'll happen. Sadly, due to the nature of capitalism, and the sluggish nature of global environmental politics, and the effect of lobby groups, it won't be before then. For the same reasons, this won't matter, as we'll all be underwater by then anyway.

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Thanks for a good response!

If it's all being used by the algae and other sealife it's at least being some use- it's almost certainly easier to harvest materials from algae than just plain seawater...

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Pint

Newspaper Accounts...

...of algal blooms in Lake Mead mentioned strains of algae that are hyperstimulated by phosphorus content. In sunny areas, growing and harvesting these algae at the treatment plant creates an output stream of phosphorus rich organics.

As mentioned by others, the problem with municipal sewage solids is that they contain heavy metals. Using algae to extract phosphorus from water might be a safer way to recapture it.

Phosphorus makes up 1% of the human body but only .12% of the earth's crust making it the scarcest life critical element.

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Good idea

Take a waste product and make something useful out of it.

Where's the Womble icon?

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Thought they already did this?

Sewage sludge dressing, anyone? (On the land not the letttuce, silly).

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Pint

Recycled Story...

Yes sewage sludge & bi-product has been spread on farms for ages, I used to research it nearly 15 years ago at Thames Water. Sludge is bio-digested which generates lots of methane for energy, & then denatured leaving an inert residue etc.

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Serpently

Sludge from the sewage stations is regularly added to the land round 'by 'ere, although more as a soil conditioner than a fertiliser: By the time they dig it out of the tanks most of the goodness has been washed out AIUI

Big issue is parasite cycles. If you can separate the location where you dump yer dung from the one where you grow yer food by a fair bit, the chance of a build up of parasites is reduced. So we need to take french shit and sell them ours. Really.

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Re: Sewage sludge dressing

Milorganite - I believe it was the Milwaukee sewage works that did this - mentioned in science text books back when I was at school ('40's).

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Happy

Not Human Poo

Night Soil, please

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This used to be quite normal.

Go and Google "Night Soil".

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IT Angle

Real Threat, for once.

I used to be a farmer.

This problem is real.

And, as far back as twenty years ago, sewage works were struggling to find somewhere to dispose of the solid residues, which were a valuable fertiliser that scared the supermarkets shitless.

The Soil Association can be a bit controversial: they've been allowed to define "organic" without much apparent external influence. Farmers are uncertain about their motives and, sometimes, the quality of their science. But, on this topic, they're on pretty solid ground. We can argue about just when the supply of phosphates will tighten, and nitrate fertiliser may be a bigger problem that hits sooner (it's the energy input), but it's going to hit.

And the sewage sludge is a useful source of phosphates and other nutrients.

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Joke

But, on this topic, they're on pretty solid ground.

Are you sure they're not on pretty soiled ground?

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Coat

Well

They won't be standing on solid ground when there's an E.Coli epidemic... it'll be rather muddy.

Grabbin my coat for when shit hits the fan

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Stop

If you want to grow your food in poo, go ahead.

Don;t expect me to eat it though.

Personally, I'll be fine without the liver flukes, tapeworms and various parasites that people in developing countries have to live with, pretty much as a direct result of this practice.

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Pint

Hate to tell you this ...

... but a substantial amount of the food that you eat is grown in soil that has been enriched with excrement. Many of the parasites etc that you refer to will be found in water or soil whether it has been fertilised by humans or not. I would suggest that if you want to avoid fertilised food, you are going to struggle to find enough to live on within a very short period of time.

The difference between human and most other animal wastes used, is that they tend to be vegetarians, and we are omnivores. There tend to be slightly different types of intestinal flora and fauna between the different classes, but overall, it doesn't make a huge difference.

Excrement is like Money (or Money is like Excrement) - if you pile it up in a big heap and leave it, it becomes offensive, poisons the earth and does little good. If you spread it around, it becomes less malodourous, it enriches the earth, and allows things to develop.

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Boffin

You already do

Out in the country farmers have huge tankers full of poop that they spray across the fields. It's not nice in the summer. Or at any time really.

It gets worse too. You know how we like to eat cows? Well they poop on their OWN FOOD (that is to say grass) and also on each other for some reason.

tl;dr poop is everywhere

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Oh my...

Have you not heard of sanitisation? It can all be cleaned before it is recycled. At the end of the day phosphates are phosphates, no matter the source.

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Of this, I am aware

My point is that, whilst the soil may be teeming with various nasties originating from the excreta of several animals, most parasitic species are specific to one host species. This is the principle reason why we treat sewerage, rather than put it directly onto fields. I have no problem with the use of treated waste being used for this, nor with the use of manure on fields rather than mineral fertilisers (this is generally a good idea). The key word here is 'treated'. As far as I am aware, treated sewerage 'sludge' is (or at least was) used in this country as fertiliser already, so I was making the assumption that the lady from the SA was talking about untreated waste.

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Well, actually

The difference between human and most other animal wastes is that animal waste is pure animal waste, whereas human waste already contains any amount of chemicals, bleaching agents, and disinfectants - even as it leaves many homes - and then gets mixed in with industrial outflows, and other contaminating sources. The problem isn't one of treating human waste to stop parasites establishing life cycles (and the only animal that this really applies to, in a major way, is pigs), its one of getting a processable product to start with.

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Terminator

It Stinks It stinks It stinks in the summer

If your a farmer near Ipswich then in the summer I guarantee you that your ears were really burning. Because this practice just REEEEKS. They don't use the denatured, bio digested, sanitised version oh no. They just empty the cess pits over the land. Utter Gits.

If it isn't the stink from the Sugar Beet factory cause nasty niffs then it's these farming gits spreading the raw unprocessed sheeeyite everywhere..

Now why did I move away.......

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Go

With all the pharmaceuticals humans ingest ...

... I'd approach the use of human outputs for fertilizer with caution. It's been reported that many drugs (including psychoactives, post- menopausal hormone supplements, and caffeine) are not being fully metabolized by the users and these "leftovers" are showing up in the waste stream. Perhaps once the output is composted these leftovers break down into inert stuff (so we don't get caffeinated cabbage ... or would this be a good thing?).

Also, at what point would these outputs be harvested? Once they get to municipal processing plants, they are usually contaminated with stormwater runoff and other sources of heavy metals and other toxins (I believe the "biosolids" sold by these plants are banned for use as fertilizer in some areas for this reason). From a product purity standpoint, encouraging the use of composting toilets would be an ideal starting point but I suspect there will be ... resistance ... to this idea amidst the public.

Otherwise, the general idea is worth exploring as it could be a win-win for agriculture and for municipal waste management.

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Number 2 has it

Entirely simple to stick a capture circuit into a sewage plant. No need to go and stick the shit on the fields: just extract the element and put it into the standard fertiliser making process.

I'm absolutely certain that a bit of googling around could find someone already with a workable system.

Oh, look:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=sewages-cash-crop

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Crystal Green, eh?

How big a step from Crystal Green to Soylent Green?

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Welcome to Walkerton On

Any one interested in this process should review what happened in Walkerton, Ontario where farm runoff infected the watersupply and a breakdown in the management of the watersupply caused half the population to fall ill and the deaths of 7 people.

This is a BAD idea.

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This is not limited to night soil.

Any large amounts of any kind of fertilizer (or pesticide for that matter) in the water supply is a very bad thing. Phosphates? Nitrates? Good for plants, not so for animals.

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grow compost

I heard somewhere that the best way to do this is to treat the sewage as normal (as Nigell11) said.

However, due to human pathogens (and tomato seeds) surviving the process, the sludge is not directly put on food crops.

Instead, it is used to fertilize phosphorus-rich crops. These are then used as compost for the food crops. Most human pathogens can't survive the year-long delay from output-to-input that this causes.

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its already done

I remember the council in Galashiels did this on some common land and had to bar people from entering it for a good 6-12 months because it was a serious health hazard, especially if there was a chance that the fields would get above 35˚C.

Unfortunately the person who wrote this paper has their degree in what is basically geography, and not biology. Anyone who's done A level biology knows this is a bad idea (™), for so many reasons.

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Joke

Not just pathogens

Most human shareholders can't survive the year-long delay between investment and dividend!

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Anonymous Coward

Hmmm, I wonder ...

Aren't there some mega-intensive cow farms in USA?

Saw something on the tele about it and how developers are looking at a mega-cow farm in Lincolnshire, UK.

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Anonymous Coward

Any Lincs readers here?

Can they confirm sighting of these mega-cows?

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Anonymous Coward

Mega

Why's that? Are mega-cows tastier than normal ones?

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yes

Nocton. Very contraversial. Battery cage cows, rather than hens. Nasty.

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Anonymous Coward

They already do this

Sewage works already sell the human shite they gather to farms for growing mushrooms and potatoes. Perhaps this is just a call to do more of it?

I always wash my mushrooms and potatoes. I even cut off the ends of the mushroom stalk if I don't like the look of them.

Looks like Tommy director Ken Russell got the last laugh, eh?

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Badgers

Hence the phrase "Treat them like mushrooms."

IE, keep them in the dark and feed them shit.

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Stop

A really bad idea

The solids captured at the treatment plant contain far more than just human poo. It contains all manner of toxics from washing and other processes not to mention all the other flushable items that get flushed. It isn't fertilizer, it is a toxic witches brew of Lord only knows what.

Use it as a feedstock for a recovery process if you can turn a dime doing it but don't be dumping the raw material on the land.

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Cynicism

Why the cynical tone and "scare quotations" in the article? As Dave Bell says above, peak phosphorus is a real problem, even if some IT journalists appear not to have heard about it before The soil association is just one of many organisations that are concerned with it and its impact on humanity. The scarcity of supply is one reason why the UN condones export tariffs on phosphorus. Without some form of recycling or alternative sources, agricultural production will most likely crash. Many would think that recycle sewerage is somewhat preferable to mass starvation, and yet more wars over limited resources.

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IT Angle

Coinicidentally,,,

I shall be taking up last years poo during this cold snap and putting it around the apple trees. The worst part of the pit compost toilet is the steamy vapour that gives you a damp behind on cold mornings. After a couple of years intermittent use of the things, I'd rather have a dunny than an indoor one, even on days like these. The best ones are out in the woods, just a seat with a view in the middle of nature. Magic.

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Done That

Colorado USA has been doing this for quite awhile

http://www.metrowastewater.com/biosolids.asp

.

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We are Victorians

There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand, and none use a toilet.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0779982/

The quote is from fiction, but I have always understood that to be the order of the stock.

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Anonymous Coward

Already happening

Here in a remote corner of the British Isles.

The waste is baked at high temperature into pellets before use on land.

Might even be UV treated before baking (not sure though).

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E 2

Not a radical rethink

But a de-think I'd say. Our ancestors were not using chemical fertilizers prior to 60-odd years ago!

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Joke

In other words....

Everyone take a wee on tomorrow's lunch.

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Alert

cut out the middleman, baby!

the human fertiliser story had me very much in mind of a certain John Waters film:-)

http://dai.ly/dd9bGg

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Alert

b4 u all poo poo this story

over 30 years ago our new school playing fields had human fertilizer sprayed over it, Came from Three Valleys Water in Hertfordshire. smelled for about two years.......

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Coat

Could we all get one?

"Her PhD was an examination of the development of UK Government policy on organic food and farming over the last 25 years."

Which university is dishing out PhD's for a competent journo's Sunday papers column - I'd like to go there?

Yes, I really have a first degree cert in the pocket

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FAIL

The Chinese used to do this big time, then they figured out why they were so ill

All over rural China you see methane generators where 'night soil', so called as it earlier collected overnight, would be placed and it's degeneration would cause the gas. It's used for cooking and water boiling.

Only the poorest of peasant farmers use this excrement, as the risk of illness is offset by their desire not to die of starvation. Even moderately wealthy farmers buy 'artificial' fertilisers as the added cost is more than offset by the increase in crop output.

Here in VietNam around 94% of sewage is dumped UNTREATED into our lakes, rivers and the sea. Even farmers on the banks of these polluted waterways - think SaiGon has around 12-million rear ends - don't use river water to irrigate their crops.

How ill-informed can this UK outfit be? They must be funded by pig and chicken farmers looking for a place to dump their shit. Imagine the NHS costs?

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Joke

But I thought...

wee flushed it into the sea to encourage an algal bloom to absorb all that nasty CO2 in the atmosphere.

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