John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A team of San Francisco inventors view drunks and the homeless as reservoirs of golden fertilizer.
Ever walk down the street and notice a sad, brownish scrub of a plant? Just pee on it!
That's the joyful message from a team of San Francisco designers who want to nourish the city's plant life with a reservoir of citizen urine. This unusual plan came about after they connected the facts that 1) pee is loaded with chemicals like nitrogen that help plants grow 2) people are just giving it away all over dumpsters and alley walls. Since we can't have that, they fabricated a public urinal called the PPlanter that transforms steaming whizz into precious, golden fertilizer.
Their "urban biofilter"
did not snag No. 1 (Ed: of course it didn't, because it's not a competition) debuted in the recent San Francisco Urban Prototyping Festival, where it received $1,000 in grant funding. Now they're nearly halfway toward realizing their urine-coated dreams at Indiegogo. How does this amazing technology work? In short, somebody who needs to really go – such as beer drinkers and homeless people – holds it in long enough to reach a PPlanter. Guys level a stream into the urinal (ladies, you get the pleasure of using a "disposal funnel") where a bamboo filtration system converts it into drank that's delicious for plants.
Having performance anxiety? Don't worry, the designers have planned for that with an opaque stall door, as you can see in this wonderful photo from the Hyphae Design Laboratory:
Because the PPlanters generate a data flood from sensors measuring things like "urine flow," water use and evapotranspiration rate, anybody with a smartphone will be able to see what plants need a fresh dose of urine. Another idea to get people headed toward the most hungry plants: The urinals light up when nearly empty.
For more about this stunning advance in bathroom horticulture, see the below PPlanter promo video (warning: contains a horrifying glimpse into a neglected San Francisco sidewalk toilet):
Thanks to the PPlanter team of Julia Schmitt , Mohit Gupta, Leslie Tom and Brent Bucknum.
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