Can we drink tea from pee? Yes, we can. Change your mindset!

Mobile ‘closed-loop’ Water Treatment Facilities - Interview with Peter Scheer

Everyone knows you can make tea out of water, but did you know you could make tea out of pee? And how this can help festivals, sustainable cities, buildings and emergency camps to provide circular sanitation and food? That’s what the scale-up company of Nijhuis Industries ‘Semilla Sanitation’ has been getting up to with their space mission-inspired ‘closed-loop’ mobile water treatment facilities. At Aquatech Amsterdam 2019, Peter Scheer presented two solutions (the Green Pee unit and Waste to Taste) as an innovative decentralised example.

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90% clean water and 10% fertiliser

At the Aquatech Amsterdam2019, we have made a great impact on the visitors”, said Peter Scheer. “The Waste To Taste container was positioned in front of the entrance, forcing many visitors to enter, ‘donate their pee’ and see in reallife how this is turned into tea. The water we produce from the mobile toilet unit is drinkable. And the mint has been grown from the fertiliser out of urine.

The result is 90% clean water and 10% fertiliser. The fertiliser produced from this process has a 75% lower carbon footprint compared to artificial fertilisers and can be used on public sports fields and green spaces or for agriculture and animal feed production. The clean water can be reused for domestic purposes, cooling systems, irrigation for crops or local greenery, or released into the environment to replenish groundwater reserves.”

Green Pee solutions

What started as a solution against wild peeing, now becomes a new form of recycling and circular economy. The Green Pee unit at the Aquatech was demonstrated as an example how special planters convert pee during the night into a less-smelling alternative for the current transportable urinal in Amsterdam.

“The Aquatech 2019 was also a good moment to discuss the solution in more detail with the municipality of Amsterdam. In 2020 we will install another 12 GreenPees in Amsterdam. These urinals are scattered around the streets of Amsterdam in attempt to deter people from public urination. The urine is then collected and processed using Semilla Sanitation’s yellow water treatment method.”

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Accelerate full-scale installations by gaining knowledge via festivals and buildings

Creating a circular world by transforming wastewater into a resource within a closed loop system, in order to provide these basic necessities – sanitation, clean water, and nutritious food – is the mission at the core of Semilla Sanitation’s work. To fulfill the mission, festivals are a good example and can be compared with temporary camps to test the solution and make it more efficient before realizing a full-scale installation at emergency camps or remoted villages.

Save a minimum of at least 6 liter water per urine flush

“At festivals, we collect as much as 40,000 litres of pee from all the beer and cocktails the festival goers consume,” says Peter Scheer. “In this amazing way, we are not just treating and reusing water that has already been taken from city pipelines to flush the toilets, we are actually creating a new source of water.

We separate the urine from the faeces to have a small concentrated stream. We can save at least a minimum of 6 liter water per urine flush. The advantage for festivals is to use less fresh water and discharge less water. Since also the Netherlands has more and more dry periods, this is another advantage for municipal and potable water authorities to provide fresh water and treat wastewater from festivals. A concentrated stream also makes it possible to treat the additional micropollutants in the water.

By treating several concentrated water streams, we are currently into a transition to deliver more ‘water on demand’ solutions. This will require smart applications to reduce, reuse and recover water resources. That is why we are currently developing also a female urinal. We can also turn flush water of festivals camping’s into toilet water, which saves approx. 30 liter per day per person.”

The future: - a energy self-sufficient and ‘closed-loop’ mobile water unit

The technology isn’t only suitable for festivals, though. While also applicable to campsites, HO2-neutral sewage-less neighbourhoods, and many other permanent and flexible settings, the ultimate goal is to use their mobile self-contained treatment modules towards humanitarian aid, such as water-scarce regions or disaster relief zones.

“Remote villages, for example, could really benefit from having a way to sanitise their wastewater and turn it directly back into a usable resource for growing their crops and keeping spaces clean,” says Scheer.

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Help remote villages and generate sustainable energy

“In February 2020 I visited Zimbabwe and Oeganda. In order to help remote villages, a complete treatment of yellow, black and grey water is necessary. The process of treating yellow water is slightly different to the processes of treating grey water and black water. Yellow water is water that only contains urine, often collected from men’s urinals. Grey water is the run-off from domestic purposes, such as showering and washing the dishes.

Black water is akin to sewage sludge, which is a combination of toilet water, feces, tissue, blood, and anything else that gets flushed down the toilet,” explains Scheer. “Yellow water can be treated into flush water, irrigation water and fertiliser. Black water can be treated into compost. Grey water can be treated into clean discharge water. To make the system completely self-sufficient in energy, solar panels can be installed to generate sustainable energy.