On Peeing Outside

In a recent Podcast, Permies director Paul Wheaton chatted with Anna Birkas, who is in the process of writing a book called “How to Pee Without TP.” Their conversation describes in great detail the methods and maintenance of peeing in the great outdoors and doing so comfortably. Birkas  is also designing a line of pants for women that allow them to pee more easily when outdoors.

(click here for the podcast: 211 – Females Peeing Outdoors)

We're going to use this opportunity to chronicle different perspectives on going in the great outdoors; from outhouses to fertilizer to weed-killer to septic saver. The basic gist: Human urine contains abundant nitrogen, a key nutrient for plants and soil microorganisms. In proper dosages, this can be like steroids for your garden, lawn, or back nine—and save millions of gallons of fresh water from literally being flushed down the drain.

Urine Luck

Garden centers sell urea (which is actually fake urine) as fertilizer, and a whole lot of compost enthusiasts use pee as a compost activator.  Researchers at the University of Kuopio's Department of Environmental Sciences in Finland concluded the following:
Urine produced by one person over a year would be enough to grow 160 cabbages -- that's 64 kilograms (141 pounds) more cabbage than could be grown in a similar plot fertilized with commercial fertilizer. They recommend collecting urine from eco-type toilets, storing it, then scattering it on the soil around the plants rather than directly on them. 
Several million pounds of nitrogen are flushed "away" in the US every single day.  Homesteading is a process of learning to use what you've got, and learning to find value in what society so often treats as garbage. So if you're ready to get serious about using what you have, here are the details: Urine should be diluted 1:7 with water if you keep yourself well hydrated, or 1:10 if you don't typically drink enough water.  Too high a concentration of the nitrogen in urine will chemically "burn" plants.

Know Thy Septic
Not enough people consider their effect "downstream". For every cigarette butt flicked on the sidewalk, every toilet flush, every time you turn on the sink or sprinkler or add fertilizer to your lawn, water (from the sink, tub, toilet, or sky) flushes the waste "downstream". Which is to say, the pollutants continue to exist. They just go somewhere else. This last detail is too easily pushed out of the mind. This was a central theme for industry dumping oodles of toxins into rivers and streams before there were laws about such actions; but still holds true every time you flush something down the toilet or sink. How often do you truly consider the effects of said flush on your yard; on wastewater treatment plants; on the energy required to cleanse that system; or what a leech field actually is?

"My advice to anyone who is against going outside to pee is go learn about septic systems," wrote one woman on Wheaton's permaculture forum. "My dad installed them for many years, so I know how much of an unhealthy, environmental nightmare they are. I also know that WOMEN cause the most pollution in them, stop flushing tampons and pads, they are NOT flushable no matter how many times the damn box lies that they are. Also, the treatment and maintenance of modern sewage systems proves how wrong these systems are. They require so much input and constant monitoring and WORK that they are the definition of unsustainable, you just don't know it because you aren't the one who has to go swim in sh*t and bloody tampons at work every day. When you throw something away there is no away, where do you think all your urine and poo go? Women, of all people, should be more aware of how often they send toxins off for someone else to deal with, when if they had done it right those toxins would have been mere fertilizer for their closed loop of proper health and well-being.

If you're living the rural life and employ (or are thinking of employing) an outhouse, consider using buckets and pails instead of holes in the ground. These containers can be applied to compost heaps (just be mindful of affording ample time for full composting).

What About Medications?
While we're all about encouraging a life in tune with nature, people on medications should be extremely mindful of sharing their daily excretions with the garden. In a recent report, Environment Canada found that when fathead minnows are grown from egg to adulthood in the presence of as little as three parts-per-trillion of synthetic estrogen (used in birth control pills), they are completely feminized. This means that all the genetically male fish express only female characteristics; thus no males are available to mate and to fertilize eggs. This amount of synthetic estrogen is equivalent to dropping a single birth control pill into 10,000 L of water.  A human female using the birth control pill will excrete this amount in her urine over the course of a single day. If you're on birth control, heart medicine, diabetes medicine, cancer medicine or some other such daily dosage of meds, safest bet is to steer clear of your compost pile.

Here are a few more outside-peeing ideas:
  • For your permaculture garden: Urinate in a watering can, add water, and then water your plants. 
  • Naturopaths say it is better for your health not to wear underpants at all, ever, because the air circulation is better for your skin and discourages unwanted bacteria. If you're a lady and follow this trend while wearing long skirts, you can pee outside in a stand, squat, or lean. Air dry, waiting a few minutes before sitting down.
  • If you pee in your garden, rotate your location so it does not smell too strong, or kill plants from too much nitrogen. 
  • If you want to l kill a plant, simply apply urine to it until it dies. This works very well with poison oak. In that case, it is of course best to use a jar and pour it on without touching the plant.
  • Nervous about your neighbors seeing you relieve yourself in your yard or garden? Take a beach umbrella with you, open it, lay it on its side, and tuck in behind it to do the job.
  • A pee-only outhouse could have a drainage hose that goes directly into the compost pile.


Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.