Human pee is not treated by most sewage treatment plants. They are focused on treating for feces. Urine is actually the more potent nutrient source, containing large doses of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that overfeed algae, depleat oxygen, and create "dead spots" in waterways. Note: I have no idea where this image came from. It was on a free stock photography site. I thought it communicated the idea of nutrient pollution, but this may or may not be a site of nutrient pollution.
The problem: We are out of the touch with the fact that our bodies are part of the ecosystems around us. We think our pee as something dirty that "goes away" and is "cleaned" when we flush it down the toilet. In reality, this rich metabolite of healthy human bodies is one of the most potent nutrients in our local ecosystems and the way we route it has a huge impact on ecosystems downstream. In fact, we are downstream ourselves. Our drinking water is harvested from the same water sources in which we dump untreated human urine, as evidenced by the recent detection of drug traces like cocaine, blood thinners, birth control, and seratonin uptake inhibitors.
More than 50 New Yorkers turned their pee into a dried fertilizer for their houseplants. Despite having to stand outside in the cold holding their own urine in a cup on the streets of Brooklyn, they had so much fun that they told us we should make it into a dating event. No barriers left when you've had to sniff your pee and come up with a description for the smell! Favorites include, "Wet leather and horesehair." "Sea grass" and "Old homeless man sweat."
Participants at a collective pee to fertilizer event circumvented the sewage system by collectively transforming their cocktail-soaked pee in to fertilizer and taking it home as food for their houseplants. At the last stage of the chemical reaction, the pee smells awful!
Where exactly do the boundaries fall between our bodies and the larger ecosystem from which we feed and drink? The installation was featured in a piece in the April 2009 issue of Art News. A physicalized, human scale diagram of the circular nature of our nutrient cycle had a form reminiscent of our own gastronomical anatomy-- including orifices, bladders, tube-like tracts, spouts, and suckers of various forms. Visitors sat on the toilet facing the waterfountain to watch a film sequence and in so doing, closed the cycle with their own bodies.
We wanted people to have an experience of doing it themselves. The instructions enclosed in the DIY Kit box guided participants through each step of the process, just as we did during the events. However, doing so in one's own home had a much more profound and personal impact, we were told by kit buyers. In the end, users can decide whether or not to grow edibles in their self-derived fertilizer.
The kit and documentation of the events was on display at MoMA NY's 2009 Earth Day exhibition.