Anthroponix is a transdisciplinary research- and design collaboration funded by the Dutch Creative IndustriesFund, DesignTrust and Waterschap de Dommel. In search for regenerative human and environmental development, we are driven to research and design a new approach to our ‘bodily waste’. We therefore question our current perspective on human ‘waste’. We propose a new concept for a regenerative feedback loop that deepens our perception. Anthroponix creates new life out of what is considered ‘waste’. The human body only absorbs 15% of the nutrient intake, which means that up to 85% of nutrients ingested are ‘sanitized’ in ways that degrade water bodies and soil ecologies. Inspired by the abundance of these natural ‘human resources’, we see it as an opportunity to radically change these broken nutrient cycles and to involve everyone in this process!
Citizen Science Project in Participatory Urban Metabolism
We propose ‘Participatory Urban Metabolism’. The aim of this citizen science study is to explore what dialogues occur in the process of re-relating our human organism biologically with the natural world. Research participants will be asked to take part in a six-week long, exploratory horticultural trial to investigate how their lifestyle choices can impact the flourishing of plants that depend on their nutrients. Anthroponix asks participants to collect and stabilize tiny amounts of their urine for analysis and application as odor-free plant fertilizer in a water-based horticulture system (hydroponics). Stabilization and sanitation of the urine is accomplished by fermentation via inoculation of lactobacilli akin to kimchi or yoghurt. Participants will be carefully instructed and guided to conduct and monitor the process with dip test-strips (Urinalysis and 9WayWaterSafe) similar to a pregnancy test. Also participants will measure plant growth indicators with handheld horticultural sensor devices (PAR, TDS, Phenology app). Most importantly, they will be asked to keep a journal for six weeks for self-documenting their food intake in the first 21 days and the resulting plant growth in the following 21 days. To acquire the necessary skills and support the participants are expected to attend workshop sessions. It is hoped that the participation and associated dialogues will help us understand how interconnected our bodies are with energy circulations in the environment.
Fermentation: Ancient Biotechnology Reimagined
Conserving and aging techniques have been used for millennia to make kimchi, alcoholic beverages and improve soils. Anthroponix is novel in that we use fermentation to transform wastewater into a growing medium for crops. Fermentation demands subtlety and know-how, yet its advantage is that it operates without electricity or chemical inputs. The process has three phases: 1) Harvesting lactic acid bacilli from plant leaf material or the air. 2) Propagating the bacteria with a sugar source. 3) Adding these cultures to the urine (inoculation). In airtight containment, the lactic acid bacteria outcompete harmful microbes by turning the urine sour (acidification). This eliminates smelly chemical reactions and loss of nutrients (ammonification).
Timeline of Regeneration
Over a passage of about three months, Anthroponix is closing the nutrients cycle. In the first month lactic acid bacilli are gathered from plant leafs (cabbage) or the air and activated with sugar. In the second month, these beneficial microbes are used to stabilize and sterilize fresh, source-separated urine inside an anaerobic bio-reactor. In the third month these organic nutrients are exposed to air in a water-based planting system (‘Anthroponics’) where further aerobic bacterial activity mineralizes them, making them suitable for plants.
Urine: the Rich Bio-Fluid
Urine is a highly complex substance and difficult to scientifically characterize. It typically contains metabolic byproducts from foods, drinks, drugs, cosmetics, environmental contaminants, internal metabolites and bacterial residues. Anthroponix views urine as a resource everybody has access to and an alternative to industrial fertilizers and energy, as well as a diagnostic time capsule of the human-environmental health condition. On average an adult releases annually 500 liters of nutrients-rich urine with a capacity to fertilize 250 square meters of soil and grow 200 kilograms of rice or wheat. The fermentation process is able to eliminate harmful organic pathogens like e.coli, hormones and viruses yet industrial contaminants remain.
‘Anthroponics’ is a renewable, soilless cultivation system that uses natural bacterial cycles to convert urine into plant fertilizer. It is a combination of aquaponic farming, organic hydroponics, and wastewater treatment. Most hydroponic systems use mineral-based nutrient solutions from fossil fuels. Anthroponix instead uses bacteria to break down organic matter from human urine into a mineralized form that the root hairs (rhizoids) of plants are able to uptake. For plants with high nutrient demand, traces of pure wood ash and kelp meal is added to supplement potassium and magnesium.