Best Septic Services turns urine collection into a lucrative side business that also helps the environment.
For the last several years, Best Septic Services in Westminster, Vermont, has been playing a key role in a novel initiative in which human urine is diverted from septic systems into tanks, then collected, sanitized and turned into fertilizer.
“I know it sounds kind of kooky,” says Jeff Ruggiero, who owns the septic maintenance, repair and pumping company with his wife, Lisa. “I initially thought there was no way people will do this … but people are all over it. Vermonters are very eco-conscious.”
The program is run by Rich Earth Institute, a research group based in Brattleboro, Vermont. The group is committed to advancing the use of human waste as a reusable resource.
Urine is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, key ingredients in many fertilizers. Moreover, contrary to popular perception, urine is generally sterile and what little impurities it might contain can be removed easily through either pasteurization or long-term storage, says Kim Nace, the group’s founder and administrative director.
The case for “peecycling” is compelling when you consider that nationwide, 1.2 trillion gallons of water a year is used for flushing toilets. And an average person flushes a toilet five times a day, and four of those times it’s to dispose of just urine, not feces, Nace says.
“That means we each use more than 4,000 gallons of clean water every year just to get rid of urine,” she adds. “It’s a no-brainer – we’ve got to stop flushing toilets so often.”
An average person produces between 100 and 150 gallons of urine a year. That equates to about 8 pounds of nitrogen and almost 1 pound of phosphorus, which provide fertilizer to produce 320 pounds of wheat in a year, enough for a loaf of bread every day, Nace notes.
People who participate in the program either buy urine-diverting toilets or retrofit existing toilets with a separator. The urine is diverted to a holding tank located in a basement, while feces still goes into a septic tank, Ruggiero explains.
The program collected 5,000 gallon of urine in 2014. Best Septic currently hauls roughly 450 gallons of urine a month, which is taken to a local horse farm. There it’s treated and used to grow hay, Ruggiero says. In addition, Ruggiero has outfitted 10 portable restrooms with urine-separating devices so the company can contribute to the program, too.
The company hauled the urine for free for the first two years of the program, but now charges a flat fee, he says. Rich Earth refers program participants to Best Septic.
“It definitely gets our name out there for more business,” Ruggiero says, noting that the company gives a promotional pamphlet to urine-collecting customers who don’t already use Best Septic to pump their septic tanks.
“I think Jeff and Best Septic are amazing,” Nace says. “Jeff very quickly understood what this is about and how he could be a part of it. He’s very committed to doing what’s right for managing human waste.”
Nace admits that recycling urine sounds like “a strange thing” and that some people initially have a hard time dealing with the “ick” factor.
“But not only do people get over it, they’re transformed when they realize something that comes out of our bodies can do so much good,” she adds. “We’ve been astounded at how empowered people feel about it.”