Michigan Professors Advocate 'Pee-Cycling'

By Taylor Linzinmeir

May 13, 2022

Closeup peony bouquet in vintage tone
Photo: Getty Images

Two University of Michigan researchers are advocating for putting pee on peonies. The goal is to educate the public about the environmental and economic benefits of fertilizer derived from nutrient-rich urine.

Environmental engineering professors Nancy Love and Krista Wigginton have been putting a urine-based fertilizer on heirloom peony beds at the school's Nichols Arboretum ahead of the flower's annual spring bloom.

“We have used the term, ‘pee on the peonies...’ It grabs people’s attention and then we can talk to them about nutrient flows and nutrient efficiency in our communities and how to be more sustainable,” Love said, according to the Associated Press. “It turns out some people thought that that was permission to drop their drawers and pee on the peonies.

“So, this year, we’re going to use ‘pee for the peonies’ and hope that we don’t have that confusion.”

They are not only investigating urine-treatment methods, but also people's attitudes towards using urine-derived fertilizers as part of a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation awarded in 2016.

“At first, we thought people might be hesitant. You know, this might be weird. But we’ve really experienced very little of that attitude,” Wigginton says. “In general, people think it’s funny at first, but then they understand why we’re doing it and they support it.”

Urine contains nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus — and has actually been used as a crop fertilizer for thousands of years.

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