Health

Invention Allows You to Drink Your Pee Safely

June 4th 2016

By:
Lucy Tiven

A novel water filtration system has brought drinking your own pee outside of the realm of cruel truth-or-dare games.

The portable LifeStraw device makes contaminated water safe to drink. It has been around since 2005, but it's garnered some new attention in the last few days, after two talk show hosts used it to drink each other's urine in a viral video.

In a Wednesday segment of the YouTube talk show "Good Mythical Morning," the show's hosts answered a fan's question about how to survive without clean water by using the LifeStraw to drink pee, as well as water from various dubious sources, including a bathtub and the Los Angeles river.

If you aren't particularly outdoorsy, "how do you survive without clean water?" may not be a question you've worried too much about.

Yet, the massive California drought and recent water shortages in parts in the Southwest suggest that it's a question we might have to answer in the future.

California drought is drying out agriculture

Water scarcity is already a major problem in developing countries. As many as 1.1 billion people in the world lack access to water, and 2.7 billion face water scarcity for a month of the year of more, according to the World Wildlife fund. At the rate we are currently guzzling it, two-thirds of the world's population may face water shortages by the year 2025.

Drinking pee may not solve the drought, but the LifeStraw technology could prove incredibly valuable to those living in areas where water is scarce or contaminated.

How it works.

The LifeStraw, which was created by the global health company Vestergaard, filters out waterborne bacteria, including E. coli, as well as waterborne protozoa. It also reduces water turbidity — how cloudy it looks.

"When you suck on your LifeStraw, water is forced through hollow fibers, which contain pores less than 0.2 microns across — thus, a microfiltration device," Martha Barksdale and Kate Kershner explained on How Stuff Works. "Any dirt, bacteria or parasites are trapped in the fibers, while the clean water passes through."

The company also helps provide safe drinking water to schools in the developing world through its Follow the Liters program. In May, Follow the Liters provided 33 schools in Alwar, India with high-volume LifeStraw Community purifiers, and past campaigns have brought clean water to 361,000 school children in Kenya, according to a press release from the company.

But should you use it to drink your own pee?

The LifeStraw may make pee safe to drink, but the talk show hosts' horrified expressions suggest that it didn't taste great.

Still, if you find yourself stranded, using a LifeStraw is safer than consuming urine straight from the source.

"There's a misconception that urine is sterile when it exits your body," Andrew Tarantola explained on Gizmodo.

"But recent studies have shown that like the surface of your skin, the inside of your skull, and the depths of your bowels, your urinary tract is host to bacterial colonies," he continued.

On the bright side, the hosts concluded that the LifeStraw-filtered river water "didn't taste bad at all." They also inserted cat feces into water, in an attempt to simulate flood conditions in developing countries, when sewage contaminates drinking water. These water samples, they explained, tasted more or less alright if you didn't think about the cat.

You can watch the full video below and on YouTube.