RAUL PELLINGER – Visitors to Peterborough this year may notice that things have changed a bit here … at least when they go to the loo! Washrooms at City Hall and the County building and most local hotels and restaurants have installed new urine-separating toilets. The washrooms themselves don’t look any different from before. It’s what happens after using the toilets and urinals that is so interesting.
The new set-up is the initiative of a local businesswoman, Ida P. Knightly and her business, NewFert. Why would anyone want to collect the liquid “doings” of their city? Ms Knightly explains: “Big Farming needs fertilizer – at least until we relearn how to put nutrients back into the soil with more organic farming methods like permaculture. The world’s running out of phosphorus – an essential fertilizer component. People’s urine contains significant amounts of phosphorus (and nitrogen) that can be harvested. I decided to stop being squeamish and start making money.”
Each participating establishment has a large sealed tank, reminiscent of the home heating oil tanks of past times, tucked discreetly out of the way. The tank is emptied every two weeks by NewFert, diluted and sold to local farmers. Knightly coyly calls her product ‘liquid gold.’ “When I approached places three years ago and asked to buy the right to their urine, they thought I was nuts,” she said. “My company paid to install the special toilets. The investment was repaid within six months. This is a business of the future. I don’t think the supply is going to dry up.”
Ms Knightly thanked both the City and County of Peterborough’s new Public Good Investment Fund and the Citizen’s Economic Development Group. “Their leadership and willingness to take a chance really helped launch this business. We now employ 12 people.”
Knightly, her suppliers and customers use the Kawartha Loon (KL) local currency. She described how she pays her suppliers in KLs, who in turn buy from other Peterborough area businesses (things like local food, environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies, bike rentals for in-town staff business, website and printing services.) These businesses in turn circulate their KLs when purchasing goods and services, as well as making KLs part of payroll. Employees spend it in restaurants, farmers markets, and the many new entrepreneurs supplying health, food, cultural and business services.
We asked local farmers who buy from Ms Knightly for their thoughts. “My fertilizer costs dropped 25% with this new product,” said grain producer Milt Wheatley. Paula T. in Cavan commented that the use of natural fertilizers is the only way to keep yields up since climate change really set in.
This “new” fertilizer is not new in parts of the world where very traditional farming practices still prevail. But once again, in transforming the local economy in response to climate change, Peterborough is leading the way.