Literally. Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and the Center for Disease Control have finally completed what the world has long been waiting for – a global survey of human and livestock fecal biomass. The team has compiled the most up to date description of global fecal production, but more interestingly, they have used their data to estimate the economic potential of the world’s growing pile of poo.
We are all aware of the health risks associated with exposure to feces – we’ve actually evolved to find the stuff quite repulsive – but little consideration has been given to the valuable resources that could be harvested from human and animal waste. Home to abundant stores of phosphorus, nitrogen, and even valuable metals such as magnesium and calcium, the waste from just one million people is estimated to surpass $13 million annually. Given the amount of fecal waste generated by humans and agricultural animals combined – over 4.3 billion tons a year and growing – there may be quite a fortune to be made.
For developing countries who lack the resources and technology to implement clean and effective waste management practices, this analysis could provide a catalyst for investment by companies looking to capitalize on the natural resources contained in untreated waste. These researchers project that the planet’s annual waste may contain up to 100 million tons of phosphorus, 30 million tons of potassium, 18 million tons of calcium, and 5.5 million tons of magnesium by 2030. Although the long list of negative health impacts that comes with exposure to human and animal waste, from the spread of harmful bacteria to slowed cognitive growth, is well documented, the authors suggest this new analysis may be the first step towards reshaping policies and regional planning.
Managing Correspondent: Trevor Haynes
Press Article: Phys
Original Paper: Nature Sustainability
Image Credit: Pixabay