paying to pee

I’ve gotten accustomed to paying to pee.

 At every Peruvian bus station, market place, and historic site, you may be asked for 50 centavos in exchange for a neatly folded bunch of toilet paper at the entrance to the public bathroom.

 I don’t really mind. I can spare a little change, and the inconvenience of paying for a bit of toilet paper somehow seems fitting for a foreigner in this foreign land.

 The urine swirls down the drain – actually often it just remains in the toilet bowl of water – because

why flush?

Flush toilets are prime examples of how we have extracted ourselves from the circular nutrient cycles into which we were born.

 The Rich Earth Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont is currently researching the use of urine as agricultural fertilizer.


On their website, Rich Earth Institute writes, ‘Adults produce between 100 and 150 gallons of urine per year, containing about 9 pounds of nitrogen and 0.8 pounds of phosphorus. Used to fertilize grain, this is enough to grow wheat for making a loaf of bread every day of the year.’

In 2014 I interviewed Kim Nace about the inception of the institute and its current research findings. Their Urine Nutrient Reclamation Program is the first community-scale urine recycling project in the United States.

Currently the Rich Earth Institute is working on several research projects in collaboration with different universities in the United States.

They are studying methods to concentrate the vital nutrients in urine to make it more viable for transport to farms on a large scale, and they are studying the effects of pharmaceutical residuals in urine on crops, soil, and groundwater. Preliminary results are available on their website.


Let’s just say, someone could be paying ME for the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium output I’ll leave behind at the next bus station.

still locked


This is a small outhouse with a flush toilet.

A mining company, or an NGO, or a department of the municipality or some combination thereof built this outhouse for a Peruvian Quechua family in the high Sierras as compensation for mining pollution in the region.

The door of the outhouse is still locked.

No one has any plans to use it.

As I walked on a dirt path in this small town at 3,800m near the city of San Marcos in the Ancash Region of Peru, I saw ten to twenty of these identical looking flush-toilet outhouses.

They were all locked.

Mining is happening just over the next mountain range. The rivers are polluted with heavy metals and there is hardly hot water for showering.

Maybe they could think of something other than a

flush toilet.