Developing an Anthroponics Experiment

Recently I drafted a document about an Anthroponics experiment and I convinced Niklas Hjelm, from Hemmaodlat, to try it out. In this document you can find the first draft of what ratios in designing a U-Anthroponics system might look like, as well as an experiment to test these ratios. Hopefully after the experiment is completed, we will be able to issue guidelines to help everyone out there that wishes to design their own system!

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Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems

I have read about and seen pictures of some decentralized wastewater treatment systems, but it was only on January 30th that I had an opportunity to visit one in person.

The system being used was developed by a man named Stanislaw, and is known as the ReVive. It features two tanks, one where the initial wastewater (which isn’t separated) flows and settles while it mineralizes, and a second one where the water is moved around, oxygenated and airlifted until it reaches a biological area, where plants are grown and where an ecosystem flourishes. While the system looked a bit down given that it is currently winter where it is located (Sweden), the quality of the water leaving the system was remarkable given that it only has a biological treatment. Below follow some of the pictures:

 

 

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First tank where the wastewater settles

 

 

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Overview of the system, with the decaying organic mater visible underwater, as well as some surviving grass, and some foam from the greywater use of soap in the house the system is servicing.

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Outlet pipe for the treated water as well as recirculating hose. The system never floods since there is a floater which regulates the water level.

 

 

 

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Treated water exiting the system

IMG_20150130_134933 The treated water is directed towards a creek nearby

From what I was able to gather, the whole system runs on only one water pump and one air pump and seemed extremely well designed. The fact that it is designed to handle a family of 20 with daily use on such a small size was also remarkable. The system is technically an anthroponics system without the need for urine/feces separation, since it doesn’t use soil. The fact that it is possible to scale down a treatment unit to this size is most promissing.

While I have my doubts that it would be possible to grow edible plants in this particular system, due to the risk of pathogen contamination, I believe it would be possible to grow other useful non-edible crops (ex: rapeseed, sunflower or hemp for biodiesel production). Then again, I don’t know the details of the design of the system, so it is possible it could have been designed so that the water touching the plants is already pathogen-free.

Video on Anthroponics System

During my internship and my master thesis writing in 2014, there was a visitor in the farm that recorded the anthroponic system me and my coordinator were working on. The system design can be viewed below, as well as a short video where I try to quickly explain how the system works:greenhouse_anthroponics

A more embracing definition of Anthroponics

Recently it has occurred to me that the definition of Anthroponics (alternative farming methods using recirculating water and a soilless medium, and with human waste as the source of nutrients) can be expanded.

What is human waste? Human waste has been typically defined as biowaste, including both urine and feces, among other fluids. Traditionally it encompasses all body fluids and residue (such as nails, skin, hairs, etc) which are released by the human body in the environment and are biogradable. When we think of human waste we usually think of Blackwater, or the end result of combining water with urine and feces that reaches our contemporary wastewater treatment plants.

We can take a step back and also consider greywater as a type of human waste. Greywater can be defined as the water resulting after human use in activities such as washing (in sinks and dishwashers), showers, kitchen sinks and baths. This greywater usually contains a considerable less amount of human biowaste, but it will likely contain detergents and soap. The platform Greywateraction.org mentions using greywater for growing edible crops though keeping in mind that it is “essential to put nothing toxic down the drain–no bleach, no dye, no bath salts, no cleanser, no shampoo with unpronounceable ingredients, and no products containing boron, which is toxic to plants. It is crucial to use all-natural, biodegradable soaps whose ingredients do not harm plants. Most powdered detergent, and some liquid detergent, is sodium based, but sodium can keep seeds from sprouting and destroy the structure of clay soils. Chose salt-free liquid soaps. While you’re at it, watch out for your own health: “natural” body products often contain substances toxic to humans, including parabens, stearalkonium chloride, phenoxyethanol, polyethelene glycol (PEG), and synthetic fragrances.” (Source). This platform also provides a list of greywater friendly cleaning products.

It seems unlikely that a greywater system could work effectively in feeding a recirculating system without using soil, as many of the nutrients from human biowaste exist in lesser concentrations, and there are few widespread cleaning products that would not pose any risk to the crops and to human health. However, as environmental awareness increases and companies produce products that are biogradable and perhaps even benefitial when released into the environment, it is not surprisingly that greywater may in the near future acquire properties that make it usable for hydroponic use.

We could also take an even further step back in our definition of Anthroponics to include all human waste streams, particularly industrial wastewater. However, most of the current human waste streams are unfit even for release in the environment, let alone for use in agriculture, given that manufacturing processes create waste products not conducive to life. It is not unlikely to imagine a future where biofabrication methods (see relevant TED Talk) have transformed the manufacturing landscape, particularly in regards to leather and meat production, thus opening the door to Anthroponic applications. But for now it seems extremely hard to implement within current business practices.

It seems therefore apparent that embracing a wider definition of Anthroponics may be needed in the future, but the current definition and the current nutrient sources for Anthroponics (human biowaste) will provide enough challenges and opportunities for designers and engineers for the near future.