Nested risks and responsibilities: Perspectives on fertilizer from human urine in two U.S. regions
Keywords:Community Development, Human Urine, Fertilizer, Participatory Action Research, Wastewater Management, Food Systems, Circular Economy, Risk Perception
This paper reports on social research investigating perceptions concerning the diversion of urine from the waste stream and its use as fertilizer in two study regions, New England and the Upper Midwest. We hypothesized that discomfort or disgust might affect acceptance of such a shift in human “waste” management. However, our findings suggest that a more significant concern of those potentially involved in this process may be distrust of how economic interests influence scientific and technical information. Both physical risks (to the environment and public health) and socio-political risks (to fragile farm economies and consumer communities) play out at individual, household, regional, and global scales. We describe the intersection of these complex understandings as nested risks and responsibilities that must inform the future of urine reclamation. Our respondents' shared concern about environmental risks has already galvanized communities to take responsibility for implementing closed-loop alternatives to current agricultural inputs and waste management practices in their communities. Attention to these nested understandings of both risk and responsibility should shape research priorities and foster participatory approaches to urine nutrient reclamation, including strategies for education, planning, regulation, technology design, and agricultural application.
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