Gallery: Towa Watering Can Turns Urine Into Plant Fertilizer

 

When it comes to gardening, the thought of using organic fertilizers that are free from harsh chemicals seems… well, natural! But did you know that urine is a fantastic source for natural nitrogen-rich food for your plants? The Swedish start-up Guldkanna has designed Towa, a watering can combined with a chamber pot that can be used to collect, securely store, and distribute your “liquid gold”. This nickname given to urine fertilizer may not be far from the truth if you can get past the ickiness of the pot and learn about the benefits.

If using synthetic fertilizer doesn’t sound too bad, you may change your mind after learning that most artificial plant nutrient products are made from synthesized fossil fuels — it can take 1.5 tons of fuel to make 1 ton of fertilizer in a method known as the Haber Process. A report from CNN stated that the fertilization of crops represents well over one third of our food chain’s entire fossil fuel consumption — this figure considers everything from crop growth to cultivation and transport. Not only that, but the EPA states that crops treated with synthetic fertilizers release significant amounts of Nitrous Oxide (N20), a harmful greenhouse gas.

Another reason to divert urine from the waste stream and into the garden is that a surplus of nitrogen is bad for the water system. Even after blackwater has gone through treatment plants, much of the nitrogen is retained and is sent back into streams and rivers. Algae and other marine plants can become overgrown from nitrogen intake, and when they die, oxygen is stripped from the water during decomposition. The lack of oxygen harms fish and aquatic creatures. Our toilet waste is not the only source of nitrogen seeping into fresh water sources. Farmers worldwide purchase incredible amounts of nitrogen-based fertilizer which is washed away by rain, contributing to the overabundance.

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13 Comments

  1. pernel April 8, 2013 at 12:49 am

    I can’t anything now,until my plant start to fruit, but as of now, they’re looking great and healthy.
    welly

  2. Lea Stewart Lea Bogdan September 6, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Thanks for the expert advice from Veggie_4_life! We love when the pros chime in. I also recently heard that male dog urine is a good addition to compost. Now only if can train my pup to use the composter as his watering hole :)

  3. Lea Bogdan September 6, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks for the comment from Veggie_4_Life! That is great advice. We love when the experts chime in! I also recently heard that using male dog urine is also a really good addition to compost…now only if can train my pup to use the composter as his watering hole!

  4. @Veggie_4_life September 5, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Lea, to respond to your query about human urine in compost … I am a master composter and know something on the subject. Human urine, particularly male urine, is the best compost activator around. It is better than the shop bought products available. So personally I would recommend pouring the urine into the compost bin instead of directly under plants to speed up the composting process. You will then have a good end product which will add organic matter to your soil and improve moisture retention.

  5. lea bogdan March 8, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Rebecca, there is a little video on the Towa site showing a toddler using the can. So I do not know the exact size of the opening, but it sure looks like it would work for grandchildren!

  6. Rebecca Pryor March 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    How big is the opening? Would my 2- and 3-year-old grandchildren be able to contribute without falling in? This could be an interesting rememberance for them when they visit Nani’s house: peeing in the can and feeding the plants…

  7. soil fertility March 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Kjwike,

    although you could add urine to compost, you would lose some (or most) of the benefits, as the nitrogen source in urine is urea, and leaches out of the soil (or compost) system easily if it is not grabbed up by plants. By skipping the compost step, you allow the plants to take up this nutrient source before it washes away.

    If you were composting in a covered compost system on, say, a cement slab, where there was no way the urea could leach out, then composting would work well.

  8. Lea Bogdan January 31, 2011 at 11:01 am

    I had to share this great comment from @tim via LinkedIn: “It’s a very interesting idea. When I considered the environmental and economic ramifications of using manufactured garden fertilizers, I began to use organic compost in my own backyard. I wouldn’t discard the idea of a urine based irrigation system, however, most irrigation on my property is done by sprinkler systems. I would like to see this company manufacture a sprinkler “add-on” to be of practical use for most people. Good story, Lea.”

  9. Lea Bogdan January 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    @Kjwike that is a great question. From what I read, experts are suggesting to use compost along with urine fertilizer. They also suggest that the urine always be diluted, so I would think it it were to be combined with compost, it should also be diluted first. Do we have other experts out there that can help to clarify this?

  10. kjwike January 17, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Would it be helpful to add the urine to your compost instead of “watering” the plant directly with it? or does that somehow defeat the purpose?

  11. lea bogdan January 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Hi Remy101. There are may sources that say urine is a great fertilizer for fruits and vegetables, as long as it does not contain any fecal matter. I have also read that the plants should be watered close to the ground near the roots, not as an all over spray on the leaves. I would also agree that urine containing drugs should not be used. As an example, here is a quick article from Popsci explaining a study of urine fertilizing used on tomatoes. http://www.popsci.com/environment/article/2009-09/fertilizer-future-might-be-closer-we-think

  12. John Johnston January 16, 2011 at 6:54 am

    There’s a joke about “going to the can” in there somewhere.

  13. Remy101 January 14, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    It should be noted that you should never use urine, human or otherwise, to fertilize food plants. i.e. vegetables or fruits. Urine like feces has the capacity to carry pathogens and, more importantly drugs ingested by the host. Traces of these elements have already been discovered in our (supposedly clean) drinking water and they can be traced directly back you our toilets.

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