The case for recycling the stuff in your toilet
A Vancouver-based clean technology start-up called Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies wants to turn what gets flushed down your toilet into fertilizer.
Why is this good? Well, obviously recycling anything — even the stuff in our poop — is a good thing. For me, the importance of turning waste water into fertilizer hit home after reading a year-old story, titled “Peak Phosphorus,” in the magazine Foreign Policy.
“Our dwindling supply of phosphorus, a primary component underlying the growth of global agricultural production, threatens to disrupt food security across the planet during the coming century,” it read. “This is the gravest natural resource shortage you’ve never heard of.”
Great, more doom and gloom to get depressed about. The good news is we can recycle phosphorus, partly by removing it from our waste water. And we have a lot of waste water.
Phosphorus is a somewhat rare mineral in the Earth’s crust. Yet humans and animals depend on it for healthy bone formation.
When the plants we eat grow, they soak up mainly phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium nutrients from the soil. Over time and with heavy growing, that soil can become depleted of such nutrients, which is why we rely on fertilizers to boost the productivity of crops.
The problem with phosphorus is that getting more of it has meant mining it from ancient seabed rock. Some studies suggest that North American reserves peaked in the late 1980s and will be depleted by 2035. Global reserves could start running out in about 50 years with production expected to peak within the next two decades. Meanwhile, the world population continues to grow.
“Irrespective of how much phosphorus is left, in order to get our hands on it is increasingly very energy intensive and environmentally harmful,” says Phillip Abrary, co-founder and chief executive of six-year-old Ostara.
Read the full article online… or download PDF below.