Unveiled to much fanfare last summer and recently revisited by David Lepeska writing for The Atlantic Cities, “When Nature Calls” is a clustered arrangement of four public urinals topped by aesthetically pleasing shrubbery. Because, really, who doesn't like looking at plants when hosing the porcelain? Most thoughtfully, the urinals are also separated by dividers for those suffering from a crippling case of paruresis.
The catch here is that the plants are watered and fertilized by the very substance deposited into the base of the structure: urine. While capturing nutrient-rich pee and using it to nourish plants is an ages-old concept, applying it to modernized public urinals hasn’t exactly been done before. Back in high school, I had a friend who went through a mercifully brief phase in which he listened to a lot of Phish and eschewed indoor plumbing, opting to relieve himself instead in his mother’s lushly landscaped backyard (note: this was the Pacific Northwest in the mid-1990s). He invited visiting friends to do the same, citing water conservation and pointing out that it fertilized the plants. No one took him up on it, of course, but he was on to something.
The brains (and bladder) behind “When Nature Calls,” a 22-year-old design student at the University of Cincinnati named Eddie Gandelman, describes his “a-ha!” moment to The Atlantic Cities: “I think the urinal in public restrooms is one of the worst designed things. I was looking at my sketches and thought, 'Hey, that would be kind of cool if you could water the plants with your pee.’ I researched it and found that it could work.”
So how exactly does it work? After the urine passes through the basin of the urinal, it enters a three-stage filtration system — first activated charcoal, then crushed limestone, and finally greensand — that eliminates acidity and sodium from the liquid gold while keeping the good stuff: phosphorous, nitrogen, potassium, and, of course, secondhand H2O. Gandelman explains: “Peeing, besides being a waste process, becomes a nurturing one, which appears to be a great advantage here. This idea will certainly make the very notion of urination a better experience.”
Although there are no immediate plans to develop a prototype “When Nature Calls” urinal, The Atlantic Cities points out that in recent weeks Gandelman has spoken with architects and engineers who are interested in further developing his idea. Women enthused by the design have also approached the young designer asking about a similar, lady-friendly concept. “My next step may be finding the right people with the right skills to take it to the next level,” Gandelman tells the The Atlantic Cities.
Best of luck, young sir ... this is recycling at its finest. And in other beneficial bodily waste-related news, have you heard about the trade-in-your-dog-poop-for-free-Wi-Fi scheme that’s launching in Mexican parks?