A Pint of Beer at This Festival Might Be Brewed From Recycled Urine

Northern Europe's largest outdoor music bash collected the liquid human waste so it could be reused as a fertilizer.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jul 7, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Nowadays, outdoor music festivals are more known for massive crowds, rock-star headlining acts, trendy DJs, and attendees wearing culturally offensive clothing than they are for their environmental responsibility. Oh, and they’re known for beer. Lots and lots of beer.

Sometimes hundreds of thousands of cans, plastic cups, or bottles of brew are served up to attendees hoping to beat the heat as they sway to the music. Those beer drinkers inevitably end up having to urinate, and when they have to go they might not feel like pushing their way through the throngs to reach a bathroom or a Porta Potty. Seeing people peeing on the ground or in a jug is a common, albeit gross, sight.

So what’s a festival to do when it wants its tipsy attendees to be more eco-friendly with their liquid human waste products? Turn all that urine into beer, of course.

Through its cheekily named “From Piss to Pilsner” effort, the annual Roskilde Festival in Denmark, which ended on Saturday, collected more than 6,600 gallons of urine from about 100,000 attendees. Instead of urinating on the ground, attendees were encouraged to pee in gigantic metal troughs emblazoned with the message “Don’t waste your piss. Farmers can turn it into beer again,” reported The Guardian. Women naturally lack the equipment to easily urinate while standing, but the festival’s organizers planned for that—they passed out a cardboard apparatus that directed ladies’ flow of urine into the containers.

All that urine will be recycled and used to grow a crop of barley in 2016, which will, in turn, be used to brew beer that will be served up to festivalgoers in 2017.

“It’s about changing our approach to waste, from being a burden to being a valuable resource,” Leif Nielsen, a representative of the Danish Agriculture & Food Council, told The Guardian. “The huge amount of urine produced at festivals was having a negative impact on the environment and the sewage system,” Nielsen added. “But beercycling will turn the urine into a resource.”

So, Why Should You Care? Sure, the jokes about pee—and beer made out of pee—practically write themselves, but with urine's rich nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium content, researchers have found it to be as effective as commercial fertilizers in growing crops. That’s good news because the world’s reserves of phosphorus and potassium—key ingredients in commercial fertilizers—are running low. Similar to crude oil, those minerals aren’t an inexhaustible natural resource. Although there’s plenty of debate within the scientific community about when we’ll reach “peak phosphorus,” 90 percent of the world’s ground-based supply of the mineral is in countries with shaky political situations, such as Syria.

There could be one downside to this plan: Festivals are also known for drugs. It wouldn't be unheard of for an attendee to snort some cocaine or pop an ecstasy pill before watching Pharrell Williams or Paul McCartney perform. The chemicals in those drugs are excreted from the human body when folks urinate. When attendees relieve themselves on the ground, the urine soaks into the groundwater, which is connected to rivers and streams.

RELATED: Fish on Contraceptives and Birds on Prozac Could Spell Trouble for the Environment

One post-event study of a river adjacent to a Taiwanese electronic music festival in 2011 found significantly elevated levels of the drugs ecstasy and ketamine in the water, which is ingested by fish as they swim. Scientists haven’t conducted enough research to definitively figure out what effect street drugs have on marine life, but if it’s anything like the impact of birth control pills, we could be in big trouble.

Attendees at Roskilde didn't pee on the ground if they took advantage of the collection troughs, but there’s no easy way to filter residue from narcotics out of urine. And it seems the Danish Agriculture & Food Council is simply turning over the tanks of urine to farmers, who will grow acres of barley with it. As for how the end product will taste, you'll have to show up at Roskilde in a couple of years to find out.