Why does science news suck so much? + Pee is the answer to fertilizer shortages

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Why does science news suck so much?

INTRO (Sabine Hossenfelder): I read a lot of news about science and science policies. This probably doesn’t surprise you. But it may surprise you that most of the time I find science news extremely annoying. It seems to be written for an audience which doesn’t know the first thing about science. But I wonder, is it just me who finds this annoying? So, in this video I’ll tell you the 10 things that annoy me most about science news, and then I want to hear what you think about this. Why does science news suck so much? That’s what we’ll talk about today...

Why does science news suck so much? ... https://youtu.be/9Gn4rmQTZek


Are we flushing away the answer to our fertilizer shortages?

INTRO: One probably wouldn't peg Battleboro, a quaint town in the picturesque US state of Vermont, as the host of a "piss off" contest. But every year about 200 people compare who has collected the most urine to win a gold plated cup. And, more importantly, to fertilize crops.

The event is organized by the Rich Earth Institute, a local non-profit that pasteurizes donated pee and supplies it to farms to use instead of synthetic fertilizer. Urine contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients, all of which help plants grow but are usually flushed away. 

That's why the institute has retrofitted most of its volunteers' homes with toilets that separate urine at the source so it can later be pumped out and transported where it's needed.

"[The volunteers] take a lot of pride in what they're doing," said Abraham Noe-Hays, the organization's research director. "They see it as another way of recycling."

More resilient food systems because of pee? Turning pee into fertilizer isn't restricted to this community. Rich Earth's spin-off company is developing a system that can be used in buildings so it can expand the program to other places.

Further afield in countries like Sweden, France, Germany, South Africa and Australia other organizations are working to repurpose human waste in a bid to reduce reliance on commercial fertilizers, which have their own set of environmental and economic challenges.

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers pollute groundwater and are a significant driver of climate change. Production and use of such fertilizers accounts for 2.4% of global emissions, according to a 2021 study.

Global phosphorus reserves are also shrinking. And farmers around the world have been facing shortages and soaring prices since Russia, a major fertilizer exporter, invaded Ukraine. 

Scientists have long pointed to resources found in human waste as a way to reduce import dependency, says Prithvi Simha, a researcher with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). 

"When there is a shock to the supply chain, how do we grow food? By recycling urine, we add resilience to our food system," he said.

About a third of all the nitrogen and phosphorus used in agriculture globally could potentially be replaced by the nutrients won from urine, according to Simha. This percentage grows dramatically for countries like Uganda or Ethiopia, where there is a large population to provide urine, but not much synthetic fertilizer is used because it is too expensive... (MORE - details)

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