A delta is a place where a river meets another body of water. A river carries sediment that leaves the triangular pattern where the two bodies of water intersperse. Human bodies are nutrient-rich, water and sediment transportation systems. The Human Delta occurs at the toilet, an effluence of millions of gallons of sediment-rich water, which mixes with rivers, aquifers, bays, land, and the ocean.
The Human Delta is an art-science project intended to increase public awareness about the human “waste” at its point of departure: the bathroom. A series of posters (two have already been created and deployed) are installed in conference bathrooms, and are available for distribution. Toilets are interstitial, potentially contemplative spaces, which underscore the hidden, segregated, white-tiled, and taboo nature of the subject.
One poster is about the flow of pharmaceuticals from human bodies into a river delta. Informed by scientific research which has found concentrations of caffeine in the Puget Sound, the poster depicts the Starbucks logo as a flow of caffeine, hormones, antibiotics, and medicines entering and leaving the human body, and cycling back as disturbed (caffeinated, aggressive, effeminate) fish.
Another poster is about the potential of urine as a fertilizer. It depicts a farmer fountain: a stream of water pours forth from kidneys and bladder, fertilizing a field of corn. Text on the poster reads: “urine is fertilizer” / ” nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium.”
Environmentalists are dealing with the human delta as toxic concentrations of bacteria, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals; partially treated wastewater routinely pollutes waterways. Some chemicals which course through human bodies–heart medicine, antibiotics, estrogen–may adversely affect fish populations and their habitats. Yet, the chemicals which are naturally produced in urine–nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium–rather than construed as waste or pollution–can also be used as important nutrients for the soil in which plants grow. Agrobusiness uses fertilizer derived from fossil fuels and mined from limited reserves, contributing to global warming. A more sustainable solution would be to recycle human urine, treat it, and use it as fertilizer, linking the Human Delta back to the ecological cycle productively, rather than destructively.
The Human Delta was presented at the 2014 Bay Delta Science Conference and 2015 at BalanceUnbalance. The projects is inspired by Nicole Cousino’s urine-to-fertilizer recycling business, Nature Commode.