Using Poop to Grow Plants
An interview with the Japanese-French Inventor, Environemtnalist, and Entrepreneur whose TED talk has been viewed over 1.5 million times.
The Japanese term “Mottainai” has a double-meaning - “we cannot waste it”, and if used in a different tone, “we cannot do anything about it.” The former connotation of the expression is what sparked Cesar Jung-Harada’s awareness of the reality that we are not granted with unlimited resources. He now lives by the philosophy that we should capitalize on our existing materials to cultivate a lifestyle that is both simple and sustainable. At Green Fest, Jung-Harada introduced participants to his hydroponic creation - a masterpiece that took him only four hours to complete - and invited students to explore the different things that go in and out of their bodies and how we may make use of the output produced by our bodies to promote sustainable living.
Back in 2007, NASA was in the midst of conducting research on which plants could be taken into Mars. This exploration involved artists who were interested in investigating the input and output of humans and how they can facilitate a closed environment where plants can grow and humans can sustain themselves over long distance travel. Their design was set up to test different plants, and Harada volunteered to be the “guinea pig” for this experiment in Spain. He essentially lived in a bubble for three days wearing a diaper - where anyone could walk by and observe him living in this enclosed space. Just like a zoo animal display, he would breathe, eat, and drink, and this enabled him to create plenty of valuable materials such as CO2, pee, poo, sweat, etcetera.
Although he ended up developing an infection, Harada discovered many useful applications of this system for high-density urban environments such as the small spaces in Hong Kong. Although he believes that the first step is to inch closer towards going ‘zero waste,’ there are many implications for the future of energy production, food production, and this can be used to prototype what a sustainable lifestyle looks like. Using the installation that he created overnight (on 0 hours of sleep), he demonstrated how the closed system sustains itself. Ideally, poo, pee, and body condensation (such as sweat) would be collected at the bottom, where mechanical penetration would first occur. Then algae, frogs, fish, and minerals such as sands, ashes, and coal would then purify the water and send it back into the system as nutrients for the plants. The plants grown in his system included thyme, mint, basil, etc, and he even thought of installing a laptop stand so that people could enjoy living in their own greenhouse.
As stated by Harada, “the ability to connect with the Earth and appreciate life’s contents is a beautiful gift to be aware of.” Not only is this closed system a convenient way to generate food with the use of our human output, but “there are also benefits to your brain - it’s very much like caring for a person.” Its functions may also extend to alleviating social problems such as a lack of food security by designing infrastructure that facilitates this form of circular food production. Particularly in Hong Kong, where land is scarce and many people are unable to satisfy their basic dietary needs, we may be able to vastly reduce our demand for materials and sustainably satisfy ourselves by reusing our own resources.