An Australian researcher has suggested that the looming global shortage of phosphorus can be dealt with by recycling urine.
Associate Professor Cynthia Mitchell of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) reckons that the world's deposits of phosphorus may finish in about 50 years. She believes that if 132 gallons (500 litres) of urine each person produces in a year is recycled, the danger of running out of phosphorus can be averted.
"Urine is the most concentrated source of phosphorus. At the moment we dilute that through our sewage system and send it out to the ocean," Discovery News quoted her as saying.
"In the industrialized world we must start moving to a resource-recovery approach rather than the current waste-treatment approach," she added.
Phosphorus is a key component in agricultural fertilizers and a lack of phosphorus would affect future soil quality and production, according to the background information in the report published in the journal.
Mitchell insists that the Government has failed to address the issue of recycling urine because of a "poo taboo".
She will call for a "revolution in sanitation" across Australia when she gives a public lecture at the university later this week. She is sure that the "revolution" will happen.
"It has to for the simple reason that we are going to run out of other concentrated forms of phosphorus in about 50 years," she said.
"We are going to need sources of fertilizer ... and the most concentrated, readily accessible source of phosphorus is us," she added.
The technology that allows urine to be separated in the home is already in use in Sweden, Mitchell stresses. Mitchell says that all new homes in the local council of Tanum are required to have urine-separation toilets.
According to her, the toilets are similar to flushing toilets but with the difference that the urine passes to a holding tank through a second set of pipes. Farmers empty the holding tank at regular periods by using the urine as fertilizer.
She insists that the recycling systems provide additional benefits to the environment because the toilets use less water, and less energy is needed at the treatment stage.
Mitchell strongly feels that the impending phosphorus supply crisis should act as a catalyst for a change in people's attitude towards the use of faecal matter.
"There is a poo taboo that happens and happens differently in different cultures," she said.
Cara Beal, a researcher at Department of Natural Resources and Water in Queensland, is running a trial with 10 urine-separation toilets in the Currumbin Valley, near the Gold Coast of Australia.