Have you ever entered a public space only to be nearly overcome by the smell of stale urine? What you’re smelling is ammonia, a nitrogenous compound with a sharp, unpleasant odor. Now Paris is trying out a new urinal innovation that could turn peeing in public places into a civic advantage rather than a disgusting habit.
Low-Tech Urinal Innovation Uses Natural Processes
The science is low-tech and simple. Urine contains urea, which is rich in nitrogen. Plants need nitrogen to grow. So, what if all the nitrogen from clandestine peeing in public places could be used to benefit plants instead of annoying later passersby? Smell is an issue, but it’s easily solvable with another low-tech solution: straw. The straw provides carbon which in turn neutralizes the stench we’re all familiar with.
Visitors to the Garre de Lyon may spot some slightly cumbersome but attractive planters as they pass through the Paris train station. These are the new Uritrottoirs the city is trying out. The planters have a lower compartment filled with straw topped by a bright red planter with a compartment for the plants and a discreet slot where gentlemen can deposit their contributions to the beautification of the city.
How will the Uritrottoir turn pee into a means of prettying up Paris? When the lower container is fully saturated with urine, a sensor alerts attendants who will remove the urine-soaked straw, sending it to a municipal composting plant. Later, the nitrogen-rich compost will be used to enrich the soil in city parks. The science, though simple, is sound. And after a year of composting, microbial breakdown will render the composted straw completely innocuous yet rich in an essential plant nutrient.
Doesn’t Paris Have Enough Regular Urinals for Public Use?
Paris has installed many public facilities for those who feel the call of nature, but the problem of public urination hasn’t gone away. Now, the city is hoping that Uritrottoirs, placed in public places where passersby tend to pause to pee could provide a discreet solution. Part of the problem is that the Uritrottoir doesn’t look like a urinal at all, so during the introductory trial phase, signage will be provided to demonstrate the intended use.
The pilot program has just begun, but if it works, other Paris train stations will be equipped with the urinal innovation. It could be a win-win situation that allows hundreds of liters of urine to be turned into soil-building plant food. Meanwhile, Paris is hoping that men will stop to smell the flowers at Gare de Lyon – it will be a relief to all concerned!