What Happens If You Use Your Feces as Fertilizer?

[♩INTRO] To those of you who saw the Martian and walked
away wondering if you could actually use astronaut poop to help you grow potatoes on Mars, the
answer is yes. You can also use astronaut poop to grow things
back on Earth. Or…just any person. And while that might sound a little gross,
we humans have been using our own feces for fertilizer for thousands of years. And we’re still doing it, through what are
called biosolids — solids from wastewater that have been processed to make them safer. There are a lot of ecological benefits to
using biosolids so some experts argue we should be using more of them. But questions about their safety remain, so
researchers are still studying how to best recycle our poop. The danger with feces—be it cow or chicken
or human—is that they can contain some nasty pathogens. That’s because many microbes and parasites
have evolved to spend their lives in other critters’ guts and move between hosts via
the fecal-oral route. Which is…I don’t need to explain that,
right? If nothing is done to kill those off, then
they can end up on any crops that use manure for nourishment. And that’s a good way to start an E. coli
or salmonella outbreak. So if you want to safely use human poop as
fertilizer, you first have to make sure that disease-causing bacteria and parasites are
dead. The traditional way to do that is composting,
which is when you let a massive heap of wet waste from living things—you know, vegetable
peels, chicken bones, or yes, even poop—just sit around until it’s broken down by bacteria,
worms, and fungi. Well, not just sit there – you have to mix
it occasionally to aerate it so our decomposing buddies can get the occasional influx of oxygen
needed to continue breaking the stuff down. That process generates a surprising amount
of heat. A compost pile can get up to around 71 degrees
Celsius—which is enough to at least kill off most of the pathogens, assuming you’re
doing it right. Which means, in theory, you could make fertilizer
from human poop on Mars, or just at home. And yes, there are people that do this. There are special toilets for it and everything. But most people in the US leave biosolids
production to sewage treatment plants. Commercial biosolids produced from wastewater
are regulated by the EPA. Anything derived from human waste that’s
destined to be fertilizer must have a virtual absence of pathogens, according to the agency’s
standards. So these biosolids tend to undergo both biological
treatments—similar to composting—and other sterilization procedures, though there are
several different methods used. A 2017 study estimated that publicly owned
sewage treatment centers produce about 7.2 million tons of biosolids every year, half
of which makes its way onto farms. That’s a lot of processed poop. But it’s only about half of the total amount
of solids that the facilities produce—the rest remained as sewage sludge, which has
to be disposed of through incineration or in landfills. And less than one percent of U.S. farms fertilize
with them, so we could potentially ramp up the use of biosolids by quite a lot. The biggest reason to do this would be that
biosolids are so green. Instead of sewage ending up in waterways or
landfills, it gets repurposed to resupply depleted soil with nutrients. Recycling for the win! And pound for pound, biosolids are also generally
cheaper to make than synthetic fertilizers. Together, that means they could make the biggest
difference in countries that struggle with sanitation. By composting human waste, countries could
make cheap fertilizer and improve the health of their citizens at the same time—a win-win. But they’d also be pretty great in the US,
or anywhere, really, because their disposal is costly and harms the environment. So by recycling, sewage treatment plants save
money and help Mother Nature. But while the upsides are clear, there are
scientists and organizations that are wary of the idea. The issue isn’t the gross factor—it’s
what else ends up down the drain, like pharmaceutical compounds, cleaning agents, and heavy metals. While biosolids are considered heavily regulated,
those regulations don’t cover absolutely everything that could potentially harm us. And studies have shown that such concerns
aren’t completely without merit. A 2009 EPA survey found traces of pharmaceuticals,
steroids, and flame retardants in various treatment plants’ biosolid samples. And a 2012 study found that earthworms in
biosolid-treated soil had taken in pharmaceuticals and other stuff like disinfectants from antibacterial
hand soaps. But it’s unknown if this actually harms
the worms, or could harm us. Even the lead researcher on the worm study
called the risks ‘speculative’, while the benefits of using biosolids were ‘clear.’ There’s also the risk that biosolids could
promote superbugs: microbes that are resistant to multiple or all known antibiotics. Resistance is a concern whenever microbes
are exposed to levels of antibiotics below what kills them outright. And that can happen with biosolids, because
many of the antibiotics we take end up in our urine and feces. We know that resistant bacteria are found
in sewage and sludge prior to the treatment process to make biosolids—and sometimes,
after, depending on the method used. So it’s possible that these bacteria or
their genes could be spread when biosolids are used or produced. But some methods seem to be better at killing
these bugs than others, so scientists need more information about what works best and
why. That way, they can find ways to recycle our
poop without contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. So, we just have to collect more. Data – not poop. We’ve got plenty of poop. There are also efforts to find other safe
uses for biosolids, like a coalition of agencies in the San Francisco Bay area looking into
using them to generate electricity. Biosolids could be turned into biofuels, cutting
down on our need for oil, or even be converted into building materials for some seriously
eco-friendly housing. No plans in the works for Martian compost
piles, yet, though. I guess we’re just going to have to wait
for Elon Musk on that one. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow! If you want to better understand sewage treatment,
you might want to check out our episode on what happens to your pee and poop after you
flush. [♩OUTRO]

Comments 100

  • I remember a family friend talking abut being stationed in France after war. He said the mess had beautiful vegetables but noticed no one eat them except new arrivals. That is when he learned the base septic system was turned to such use.

  • Yeah… a rotting pile of poop is exactly what comes to my mind when somebody speaks of elon musk… 😉

  • no one seems to remember the damage done to the Chinese people by this practice.mad cow disease.chronic wasting disease

  • Your country ends up smelling like the orient..

  • In Mexico and South America they are quite advanced: "Banos Secos Ecologicos": See : https://youtu.be/d_dqm7ARyxA

  • Can you address what happens to the heavy metals from the sewage?

  • Just send it all to San Francisco. They don't have enough poop on the sidewalks

  • What are the benefits of using it as a face mask?

  • All those little parasitic worms on Hank's shirt crawling back to his mouth are disgusting!

  • man what a shitty video

  • Ask north korea, they already tried this.

  • That stuff goes back to your Home Depot for you vegan and nature lovers.

  • Don,t they already make houses out of compressed dog poop ?

  • They already do.

  • No …don't go there, the Mexicans have already done the experiments. The idiots sent the tainted lettuces to the US after shit'n & Piss'n on the plants in the field.

  • Vegan poop, little urine and funji to slap it all together, worms, water. And you grow girl.

  • Kellogg's fertilizer

  • Is there leftover prescription Pharmaceutical chemicals?…

  • There is a transfer of human d n a. Should be avoided.

  • Use neem oil spray.

  • Good way to treat poop to get rid of the harmful stuff is use a combination of neem oil honey and hydrogen peroxide.

  • I hope there's no poop related recommendation from YouTube after I watch this

  • Human fertiliser concentrates heavy metals which is why it's not used as a fertiliser in the UK.

  • The Chinese dont care about the safety of this. They place outhouses near fields then dump the contents into the fields.

  • As a kid i thought if you fertilize a plant with your piss then the fruit will also taste like piss lol

  • i was eating

  • Can we irradiate them?

  • Ask North Korea. They are cut off from most sources of fertilizer and it has resulted in wide spread parasitic infections of worms.

  • Don't put medical waste in the toilet. That's disgusting.

  • Boil ur crap before using it.

  • "they could make the biggest difference in countries that struggle with sanitation" (I'm looking at you india)

  • Historically they did this so it works why not use it our crap can't be worse than other crap.

  • So basically,if we all human in the world send our poops to the mars,we can start a new live there 😂😂

  • I think that heat is the answer. Heating it to lets say 500*F in an oxygen free environment would kill everything. Now to get someone to build such a plant.

  • How can you compost on Mars if there is no microscopic life there?

  • That's how they grow "organic vegetables"

  • after a SHFT, it will be good to use human poop and animal poop for hot water,,, just have a good pile of it run a water hose through the pile the water will get hot

  • any good gardener knows you need to age manure before using it anyways…

  • why do you use raw poops in your garden ???? good show. thank you..

  • My girlfriend uses her faeces as a kind of skin care treatment for her face. Every night before bed she snaps off a lady log and applies to her face. I don't mind and it does help her complexion it's just the flies that annoy me.

  • Vitamin P ?

  • here is an example of what it does to people, the people in the valley of Mexico do this

  • Nature already had it planned out for us since the beginning.

  • Mark Watney tips his helmet to you.

  • water is a flame retardant

  • Like how it happens naturally?
    Wow. What a break through.

  • You can see a lot of health issues since North Korea use the night soils for their crops, 1 defected soldier revealed tons of worms in his stomach. YUCK!

  • We Can But This From The Store! Its Called Milorganite Lawn Fertilizer And Works Amazing

  • I like what Kenny did with human waste at the end of the Australian mockumentary "Kenny".

  • don't we learn it in primary school?

  • You have to compost it first to eliminate bacterial infections. The same is true for most manure. I think the only manures that can be used right away are rabbit and chicken poop.

  • Hmmm watching ass to mouth on pornhub………….

  • Girls dont do 💩

  • You mixed percentages. 1% of farms using biosolids does not mean 1% of biosolids are being used by farms. Large scale use in countries lacking the infrastructure sounds like a recipe for disaster, especially if those countries also lack regulatory oversight.

  • Please slow down and stop throwing your arms around that much.

  • What happens ? A North Korea happens.

  • 1:26 NEVER, EVER, EVER puts meat scraps (raw or cooked), animal bones or any part of a mammals carcass into a compost pile! Rarely do home composts achieve a high enough heat to sterilize and having animal parts will attract unwanted critters that will dig through your pile and frequent your yard. Possums, skunks, raccoons, rats, voles, coyotes, neighbors dogs etc.

  • Get an incinolet?

  • Much safer to fertalize with the ash. The pathogens are what cause the food scares.

  • I peed on my lawn and it got real green…and impressed my neighbors wife,

  • I once lived in a house with a small block and concrete septic tank in the backyard, and it used to spill the content (dirty water) often into the yard, and I tell you, the coconut tree that was near by, within 3 years began to produce fruit at waist high, and other fruit trees near by also used to produce the sweetest fruits ever, no B.S., only human LOL.

  • Poop? What about bodies! What the hell burying dead bodies to preserve them in boxes. What, just in case the dead will ever need them again? When I die, grind me up and grow corn with me! Feed the hungry mouths I'll leave behind!

  • Yes, yes you DO need to explain it… (lmfao)

  • You know else is speculative at best? Your mom ass! 😂

  • Dihydrogen Monoxide is a flame retardant, and is found in sewage.

  • Wow you usually do a good job of looking at a subject objectively – here you have swallowed the party line hook and sinker. Please go deeper than industry pages and a superficial google. It is no surprise that many of those who oppose the spreading of this sludge on soils are professional biochemists and microbiologists. They see this goulash for what it really is – "a world of pollution in one product" (Dr David Lewis). They know the dangers associated with these materials comprised of a huge variety of toxins – a so-called "chemical cocktail" They know about the growing body of evidence describing increasing numbers of cancers arising from exposures to a multiplicity of toxins in low dose. As Dr Richard Honour has noted, "nearly all chronic diseases are caused by long-term exposure to low levels of environmental contaminants and pollutants. We should be trying to minimize this exposure, not amplifying it." By contrast, the professionals who support this reckless land disposal are often soil scientists and agronomists – whose knowledge of these chemical synergies noted above is limited by comparison. It should also be noted that these professions are financially tied to this spreading of these sewage wastes, under the guise of "fertilization" as often the farmer or rancher application must include certification by a soil scientist or agronomist … it is in the interest of these professions therefore that these practices continue.

    As Prof. Murray McBride, Cornell University bluntly asks – "Is it reasonable to conclude that there is little or no risk of land-applying a material (biosolids) containing unknown concentrations of thousands of chemicals with undetermined toxicities?" The answer is clear for those willing to SEE this material for what it actually is – a pollutant-rich waste product, that has no business being disposed of on soils meant to sustain future generation. This is NOT "green" or "sustainable" or "recycling" it is merely toxin dispersal. It is time to open your eyes folks.

    10 Solid Arguments on why we MUST END land disposal of Sewage Sludge ("Biosolids") Immediately !
    1. Microplastics – "Sewage sludge microplastics could pollute soil for thousands of years" https://bit.ly/2Sngwd2 "43% of microplastics that go down the drain eventually end up applied to agricultural land as biosolids."

    2. Antibiotic residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria – https://bit.ly/2KM7xj5 – "spreading of sewage sludge leads to a significant increase of ARG in the soil"

    3. Unregulated / untested pollutants – https://bit.ly/2BLyhNz "the EPA (listing 352 serious toxins in biosolids) cannot determine whether biosolids pollutants, with incomplete risk assessments, are safe"

    4. Switzerland has completely banned the use of biosolids on agricultural soils because of "the risk of irreversible damage to the soil, the danger to public health and possible negative effects on the quality of the food farmers produce" https://bit.ly/2Fc6ObP

    5. Swedish Government- "since biosolids contain environmental and health hazardous substances, drug residues and microplastics, our task force will propose a ban on spreading sewage sludge on farmland" https://bit.ly/2PRKdFk

    6. German Environment Agency – "With the precautionary principle and in light of the pollutants found in biosolids, we deem the agricultural use of biosolids to be a serious public health & environmental hazard & advocate that this practice be phased out" https://bit.ly/2SXfLIQ

    7. Prof. Murray McBride, Cornell University – "Once contaminated, stopping the application of pollutants such as metals and many organic chemicals that are in sewage biosolids will not correct the problem. The contamination will remain for decades or centuries"

    8. Prof. Jordan Peccia- Yale University – "biosolids contain heavy metals, hazardous organic chemicals, microbial pathogens, and antibiotic resistant bacteria …Metals and organic chemicals that resist biological mineralization can sorb to solid particles and also accumulate in sludge. These include polybrominated flame retardants, pharmaceuticals like Prozac and Tagamet, human hormones such as estrogen, antibiotics, narcotics including cocaine, and the metabolites of these compounds."

    9. Plant uptake of pollutants is not just a theoretical possibility; it has been demonstrated in various papers since the 1980s https://bit.ly/2Q7zkjY

    10. Risk – assessments have only been done on a tiny fraction of pollutants in sewage sludge & no assessments look at the synergies between the thousands of toxins, nor at the cumulative effect of being exposed to multiple pollutants over time. http://biosolidsbattleblog.blogspot.com/2018_02_17_archive.html

  • So what if the poop just gets cooked to a high temperature where all viruses, and bacteria would die anyways before they are used or sold, also doesn't fertilizer from cows and pigs have even more antibiotics in them than human ones?

  • Go poop!!! I knew i was special 🤣

  • thats alot of nerve calling this a science channel . this dudes a fucktard, watch gthe film biosolids

  • We Could make new jobs while turning up dirt in dry areas with lack of Nitrogen.Areas on the sides of highways…and Every where in between cities.Espiaclly in Deserts.

  • U hate poop but ill eat it 😋

  • Feces matter enters natural fertilizer. It needs proper composting. A need based based Small scale Industry.

  • Fresh entrepreneurs are awaiting.

  • Find a bag suitable to pack feces matter.

  • Government should come forward to purchase human excreta from houses.

  • Triillion dollars Industry. China already entered in rural.

  • Add fresh green leaves to composting is safer quickly.

  • One bacteria kills another bacteria.

  • China is going to conquer this as Industry.

  • Goverment hating on Heavy metal??! what year is it!

  • There have been two product recalls on frozen berries in Australia due to contamination in the past few years. A few people were hospitalised. They'd found they'd been using human faeces as fertiliser in, I think, both Chile and China.

  • burn them first?

  • I love all the Hank Green TV tropes in this comment section.

  • Technically yes but not right away. Thypus, faeces oral infection remember..

  • I think the biofuels may work but in the meantime there's lots of other things besides the stuff that we take which can be midacaed I think things will work themselves out in time

  • Holy SHART I didn't know about his other channel!

  • So we've poisoned our bodies so much that our compost would be diseased?

  • If you process human waste all cities are free from pollution. All drainages are closed. Energy Food is accessible to economics of the world.

  • Start immediately. Take one cluster as model by your own Finance.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDSpGnN2dsk

  • Fill of lots of bacteria and worms 😑😑

  • Thank you for a straight forward no bs video on this topic!

  • Welp, that's why we have immune system.

  • you get super Kim jong ill

  • Your shirt looks like E Coli swimming in poop

  • Why don’t we just spread this fertilizer in giant uninhabited plots of land and plant a bunch of trees in them? We really could use it considering the recent amazon development

  • Idea get alot of Hydrogen peroxide and pour it all over the compost pile, once it splits into oxygen and water its inert and it makes it unnecessary to stir the compost because the decay makes oxygen

  • I just got curious.. don't @ me.

  • Can all plants be grown with this fertilizer
    I need the answer😊

  • What are those toilets called 1:59

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