Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

NPR piece suggests that economics are pushing us towards nutrient recycling

Posted 10 Apr 2013 / 0

NPR All Things ConsideredCities Turn Sewage Into ‘Black Gold’ For Local Farms

This is a really interesting piece because it suggests that the costs associated with properly disposing of human waste are beginning to incentivize municipalities to repurpose this waste as fertilizer. As this feature indicates, landfilling and (even worse) incineration have been in the past the cost-effective means of disposing of human waste. But these means of getting rid of this “waste” are pretty tragic, because they fail to reincorporate all the nutrients found in human waste back into our agricultural systems. This results in increased use of synthetic fertilizers, which depend on the consumption of methane and produce greenhouse gases during both their production and later use. In order to become a truly sustainable society, we need to recapture most of the nutrients lost in human waste — in particular nitrogen and phosphorus — and return these nutrients to our agricultural systems.

This piece does not go into the problem of nutrient pollution and eutrophication, which often result from the intentional or inadvertent release of treated or untreated human waste into waterways. My assumption is that as regulations become stricter and limit how much waste can be discharged in this manner, the economic incentive to recycle the nutrients found in human waste will become even greater. Regulations are thus potentially critical to making recycling a cost-effective means of waste disposal.

A Minor Post, Closed Loop Systems, Economic sustainability, Pollution, Radio & Podcasts, Sustainability, Sustainable Agriculture

Leave a Reply