BRATTLEBORO -- Shawn Shafner has been collecting his urine in bottles all month.
And while he knows this may raise some eyebrows, he does not care. He understands what is expelled from his body is loaded with nutrients, and just because something is called waste, doesn't mean it should be wasted.
Shafner is an Brooklyn-based artist and comedian and founder of The People's Own Organic Power Project (The POOP Project), a grassroots organization started in 2010 to spark conversations about sustainable sanitation. He has decided to team up with Abraham Noe-Hays and Kim Nace, the co-founders of the Rich Earth Institute in Brattleboro, for a free event scheduled for the River Garden on Friday. The event, "How the Potty Trained Us," is intended to be a fun and educational evening with hors d'oeuvres, door prizes, interactive activities for people of all ages and an update on Rich Earth Institute's recent accomplishments. It is slated to last from 6 to 8 p.m.
Shafner -- who promised to tightly seal those bottles before placing them in the trunk of his vehicle and bringing them to Brattleboro -- said his performance at Friday's festivities also will serve as a kickoff for the 2014 Urine Brigade of the Rich Earth Institute, a local nonprofit founded in 2011 to advance and promote the use of human waste as an environmental resource. There will also be recognition for people willing to be urine donors for the Institute's cause.
Noe-Hays told the Reformer 3,000 gallons of urine was collected from about 170 people last year for "peecycling," or the reuse of urine for other purposes. To conduct this year's research, the Institute has set a goal of collecting 6,000 gallons of urine to be used to fertilize hay at local farms.
Noe-Hays, who earned a degree in human ecology from the College of the Atlantic, said urine makes an excellent fertilizer, and the members of the Institute will have figures and photographs to showcase the effectiveness it has in growing hay.
Nace, who once served as the principal of Central Elementary School in Bellows Falls, told the Reformer human waste can also be composted. The School for International Training graduate and former Peace Corps volunteer said she pairs her background in administration and organization with Noe-Hays' scientific knowledge. She said people are really starting to notice the work the Rich Earth Institute is doing.
"I'm getting e-mails from people all over the country and all over the world faster than I can keep up with," she said. "This isn't just people doing strange things with urine, this is potentially going to change things for people."
Nace said the Rich Earth Institute has been featured in National Geographic, Grist and Modern Farmer magazines. She has also been interviewed on an Australian national public radio program.
Nace first met Shafner, a former child actor, when Shafner performed on the floor of the United Nations on Nov. 19, 2013, which was the first World Toilet Day recognized by the intergovernmental organization. Shafner told the Reformer he sang "I'm a Pooper," the closing song from musical titled "An Inconvenient Poop." The musical, though still a work in progress, was performed at the International Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He is also working on a documentary titled "Flush."
Shafner said he likely will deliver a stand-up comedy routine/PowerPoint presentation and perhaps a song on Friday. He told the Reformer he wants to blow the lid off this society's history of making people ashamed of what is expelled from their bodies. He said he aims to help people "come out of the water closet," or learn how to become proud of how their poop and pee has unconventional benefits.
"Why do we hang our heads in shame when we leave a public toilet, when the people after us will likely do the same exact thing," he said, adding that people should view themselves as resource creators, instead of waste creators. He said Americans live in a culture that is obsessed with consumption and take-in, but talk about the body's output is considered taboo.
"Ninety-nine percent of what we buy is gone within six months and the other 1 percent is lost in our attic somewhere," he said. "This is about reclaiming what society says is useless waste."
The Rich Earth Institute can be reached at 802-579-1857 and more information about Shafner's POOP Project can be found at www.thepoopproject.org/
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.