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Guidelinesontheuseofurineand
faecesincropproduction
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GUIDELINES FOR THE USE OF HUMAN URINE AND FAECES
IN CROP PRODUCTION
A. Richert Stintzing
1
, H. Jönsson
2
, B. Vinnerås
2
, E. Salomon
3
1
VERNA, Malngårdsvägen 14, 116 38 Stockholm, Sweden. anna@verna.se
2
Dept of Biometry and Technology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Box 7032,
750 07 Uppsala, Sweden
3
Swedish Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Engineering, Box 7033, 750 07 Uppsala,
Sweden
ABSTRACT
International guidelines have been presented within the Sida financed EcoSanRes programme for the
use of human urine and faeces in crop production based on the current knowledge on use of urine and fae-
ces in small and large-scale cultivation. Urine and faeces are each a complete fertiliser of high quality with
low levels of contaminants such as heavy metals. A basis for the recommendations for agricultural use is
the knowledge of the contents of nutrients in the excreta, the amounts excreted, composition and plant avai-
lability of the plant nutrients, as well as the good knowledge of how the product has been sanitised. Urine
is a quick-acting nitrogen rich fertiliser that can be applied as it is or diluted. Faeces are rich in phospho-
rous, potassium, micronutrients as well as organic matter. Well documented research in this area is needed.
INTRODUCTION
Urine and faeces from human beings are valuable resources that deserve a better fate than to
end up in surface waters as well as groundwater, where they can cause significant problems. In
regions where there is a lack of domestic financing of fertilisers for subsistence production of
food, collected urine and faeces can contribute significantly to food security and health. Source
separated urine and faeces are collected in sanitation systems designed for this, e.g. urine diver-
ting toilet systems (Johansson et al, 2001). Treatment of urine and faeces in order to minimise
the hygiene risk is important, as well as guidelines for how to use the fertiliser in crop produc-
tion that will enable proper use with minimal risk for users of the system.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
These guidelines for use of urine and faeces in crop production have been produced through
collection of experiences, documented as well as undocumented, of reuse of urine and faeces as
fertiliser. Countries where human urine and or faeces have been studied are South Africa,
Zimbabwe (Morgan, 2003), Ethiopia, Mocambique, Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Cote d´Ivoire,
Togo, Mali, Mexico (Guadarrama et al, 2001), China, Sweden (Kirchmann & Pettersson, 1995,
Johansson et al, 2001, Rodhe et al, 2004) and Germany (Simons & Clemens, 2004) although
many of these experiences are not yet scientifically published. The basis for the work has also
been current plant nutrient knowledge through a literature study. A reference group consisting of
international experts has been consulted in order to assure the relevance of the guidelines.
Dissemination of the guidelines is carried out though the publication of results at conferences, as
well as thought the Internet, and the guidelines can be downloaded at www.ecosanres.org. The
authors gratefully accept comments, as updating will need to take place continuously.
357
Waste Management Strategies
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Recommendations for agricultural use of excreta are based on knowledge of the nutrient con-
tent of the excreta, the amounts excreted, and the treatment of the excreta, which influences their
properties. Table 1 shows the proposed default values for excreted mass and nutrients from one
person on a Swedish diet. Adapting of the guidelines to local conditions is necessary since diets,
as well as plant production conditions vary. Excreta should be handled and treated according to
hygiene guidelines for safe reuse (Schönning & Stenström, 2004) before use in cultivation.
Urine and faeces are each a complete fertiliser of high quality with low levels of contami-
nants such as heavy metals (Palmquist & Jönsson, 2004). Urine is rich in nitrogen, while faeces
are rich in phosphorous, potassium and organic matter.
Specific local recommendations for use of urine and faeces in cultivation should be based on
local recommendations for fertilisation of crops. Application rates for commercial mineral nitro-
gen fertilisers (urea or ammonium if available) can be used as a basis for recommendations on
the use of urine. Before translating such recommendations to urine, its nitrogen (N) concentra-
tion should preferably be analysed. Otherwise, it can be estimated at 3-7 g N per litre. If no local
recommendations can be obtained, a rule of thumb is to apply the urine collected from one per-
son during one day (24 hours) to one square metre of land and cropping period. If all urine is
collected, it will suffice to fertilise 300-400 m
2
of crop per person and year with N at a reasona-
ble rate. For most crops, the maximum application rate, before risking toxic effects, is at least 4
times this application rate. Urine also contains phosphorus, and it will suffice to fertilise up to
600 m
2
of crop per person and growing season, if the application rate is chosen to replace the
phosphorus removed, as for faeces below.
Urine can be applied neat or diluted. However, the application rate should always be based
on the desired nutrient application rate and any potential need for supplementary water should
be met with plain water. To avoid smells, loss of ammonia and foliar burns urine should be
applied close to the soil and incorporated as soon as possible. Irrigation after application of urine
is beneficial.
Urine is a quick-acting fertiliser whose nutrients are best utilised if the urine is applied from
prior to sowing up until two-thirds of the period between sowing and the harvest. The best fer-
tilising effect is achieved if urine and faeces are used in combination with each other, but not
necessarily in the same year on the same area. The amount of urine to be spread can be applied
in one large dose or in several smaller doses, and under most circumstances the total yield is the
same for the same total application rate.
For faeces, the application rate can be based on the local recommendation for the use of
phosphorous-based fertilisers. This results in a low application rate, and the improvement due
to the added organic matter is hard to distinguish. However, faeces are often in the smaller scale
applied at much higher rates, at which the structure and water-holding capacity of the soil are
358
Sustainable Organic Waste Management for Enviromental Protection and Food Safety
Parameter Unit Urine Faeces
Wet mass kg/person,year 550 51
Dry mass kg/ person,year 21 11
Nitrogen g/ person,year 4000 550
Phosphorus g/ person,year 365 183
Table 1. Proposed new Swedish default values for excreted mass
and nutrients (Vinnerås, 2002).
visibly improved as an effect of its content of organic matter. Both organic matter and ash are
often added to the faeces and they improve the buffering capacity and the pH of the soil, which
is especially important on soils with low pH. Thus, depending on the application strategy, the
faeces from one person will suffice to fertilise 1.5-300 m
2
, depending on whether they are
applied according to their content of organic matter or phosphorus. Faeces should be applied and
mixed into the soil before cultivation starts. Local application, in holes or furrows close to the
planned plants, is one way of economising on this valuable asset.
Pharmaceuticals and hormones are excreted with the urine, and the discussion has been rai-
sed whether to restrict use of urine on this account. Documented effects of pharmaceutical resi-
dues almost entirely reported for aquatic systems, rather than terrestrial systems. Many reports
have been published on adverse effects on organisms in watercourses where wastewater is rele-
ased. However, soil microorganisms are better adapted to decomposing hormones and other
organic substances than are aquatic organisms and the soil-root barrier is very tight against orga-
nic molecules. Thus, the risk when using urine from human beings as fertiliser on soil is small,
since the microbes in the soil system are good at decomposing the excreted pharmaceutical resi-
dues. This will always be a better strategy for the environment than to emit the products into
aquatic systems, as is the case for conventional wastewater systems with WC.
Further research on the use of urine and faeces as fertilisers is needed, especially in the follo-
wing areas:
Nutrient effects of excreta on crops and soil
Fertilisation strategies and application techniques when using excreta
Efficiency of short term storage of urine in soil
Simple and resource-efficient sanitation techniques for faeces
These guidelines have been developed within the EcoSanRes programme, funded by Sida,
the Swedish International Development Cooperation. The full text of the guidelines can be
downloaded from www.ecosanres.org.
CONCLUSIONS
Reuse should be safe, e.g. the hygiene guidelines on use of excreta for crop production
(Schönning & Stenström, 2004) should be followed.
Urine and faeces supplement each other as fertilisers, urine is rich in nitrogen that is
quickly available, while faeces is rich in rich in phosphorus, potassium and organics and
its nutrients are not that readily available.
The chemical contamination of urine and faeces is minimal and the levels of e.g. heavy
metals are very low. Pharmaceuticals residues are excreted via urine and faeces.
However, the soil-root barrier is very efficient and therefore the risk with these substan-
ces is probably far smaller than that associated with e.g. insecticides, fungicides and her-
bicides applied to crops.
As these fertilisers contain all the elements removed from the field by the crop, their use
decreases both the need of soil analyses and the risk for soil depletion.
Reuse of urine and faeces as fertilisers essentially eliminates the risk that their nutrients
pollute the environment and it enables sustainable crop production.
REFERENCES
Guadarrama, R. O., Pichardo, N. A., Morales-Oliver, E. 2001. Urine and compost efficiency applied to let-
359
Waste Management Strategies
360
Sustainable Organic Waste Management for Enviromental Protection and Food Safety
tuce under greenhouse conditions in Temixco, Morales, Mexico. In Abstract Volume, First
International Conference on Ecological Sanitation 5-8 November 2001, Nanning, China.
Johansson, M., Jönsson, H., Höglund, C., Richert Stintzing, A., Rodhe, L. 2001. Urine separation – closing
the nutrient cycle. Stockholm Water Company. Stockholm, Sweden. Available at: http://www.stoc-
kholmvatten.se/pdf_arkiv/english/Urinsep_eng.pdf.
Kirchmann, H., Pettersson, S. 1995. Human urine – chemical composition and fertilizer efficiency.
Fertilizer Res., 40:149-154.
Morgan, P. 2003. Experiments using urine and humus derived from ecological toilets as a source of
nutrients for growing crops. 3
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World Water Forum 16-23 March 2003.
http://aquamor.tripod.com/KYOTO.htm.
Palmquist, H., Jönsson, H. 2004. Urine, faeces, greywater, greywater and biodegradable solid waste as
potential fertilisers. In: Ecosan – closing the loop. Proceedings of the 2nd International Symposium on
Ecological Sanitation, Incorporating the 1st IWA Specialist Group Conference on Sustainable
Sanitation, 7th-11th April, Lübeck, Germany, pp. 587-594.
Rodhe L., Richert Stintzing A., Steineck S. 2004. Ammonia emissions after application of human urine to
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Schönning, C., Stenström, T. A. 2004. Guidelines for the safe use of urine and faeces in ecological sanita-
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Simons, J., Clemens, J. 2004. The use of separated human urine as mineral fertiliser. In: Ecosan – Closing
the loop. Proceedings of the 2
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Vinnerås, B. 2002. Possibilities for sustainable nutrient recycling by faecal separation combined with urine
diversion. Agraria 353, Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae, Swedish University of Agricultural
Sciences. Uppsala, Sweden.
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