The Nutrients Recovery Project (TNRP) produces usable compost via Terra Preta — black soil fertilized by fermented, human waste. The main goals of the project are to focus on learning about the meaning of health, self-reliance, the rhythms of daily life, and the meaning of community. Other benefits include the satisfaction of producing something often ignored or taken for granted.

On the individual level, making Terra Preta is not only about self-determination. By claiming responsibility for what enters our bodies — in the form of wholesome, sensibly produced food — we can be in charge of our bodily output by reconsidering its place and meaning in our biosphere.

On the larger level, TNRP is driven by the realization that action and participation in the public realm doesn't suffice anymore to address the burning environmental issues of our world today. We have to change the way we live, too. In a city like Canberra — with the largest waste output per capita in Australia and a green waste recycling relegated to the individual, the fate of the planet depends on our daily engagement with nature like never before.

Aside from raising consequential questions, TNRP is mainly about exploring unexpected connections. Charcoal, the defining ingredient of ancient Terra Preta Amazonian soils, connects to the element of fire and its importance in aboriginal tradition. Fermentation, or 'controlled rotting', integrates humans into a wondrous 'digestive macrocosmos' and lets us pass on the vitality from one kingdom of life to another. Finally, Ancient knowledge is reconsidered and made relevant again, through a campus-wide, collaborative effort spanning art, consciousness and science.

Markuz Wernli


Aspiring Soil Maker
Project Initiator

As an artist dedicated to food and collaboration, Markuz creates participatory projects that bring environmental issues into a tangible experience. These include “Growing Radishes With 30 Families” (Kyoto, 2009), and running a “No-Menu-Restaurant” (Seoul, 2010). He is currently the digital research manager at ANU's Australian Centre on China in the World.

“Constructive interventions make visible the more complicated and ambiguous aspects of our existence.” — mw

“True inspiration comes from the transitional mental and social spaces that exist in a state of becoming.” — mw

“Making Terra Preta soil means to engage with primary elements, fire and water, earth and air and to learn the alchemy of vitality.” — mw

“What before appeared just as dirt, reveals itself as achievement, as expression, as relationship.” — mw

“Controlling the alchemy of fermentation is power, and maintains people's relationship with earth.” — mw

“When fermenting urine, I can find — besides its nutrients — the ingredients of a story between inoculation and ripening.” — mw

“This is about acquiring a deeper understanding of the natural world — in our daily lives — and our species' peculiar role in it.” — mw

David Freudenberger


Research Ecologist and Lecturer
Scientific Advisor to TNRP

Dr. David Freudenberger is a research ecologist and lecturer at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University. His research expertise includes herbivore digestive physiology and nutrition. Between himself and his agronomist father, they have over 70 years of experience in compost processes and organic fertilisers.

“There are certainly impressive quantities of nitrogen in a year's worth of urine!” — df

“I suspect that standard sewage treatment is highly effective in treating faecal material, but the high levels of nitrogen in urine is likely lost to the atmosphere as most sewage system are aerobic rather than anaerobic.” — df

“Power to the microbes! I'm glad natural biodiversity is still up to the job.” — df

“Successful composting requires three key ingredients: carbon, nutrients (particularly nitrogen) and water: the fermented urine provides a novel source of nitrogen and other essential nutrients.” — df

“The Terra Preta approach is sensible, 'closing the loop', converting waste products back into the food cycle. Naturally this has lots of elements.” — df

“The acidification of urine using lactose fermentation makes a lot of sense, is easy to do at home, but naturally rings a lot of 'risk' alarm bells because it's such a new idea.” — df

“At one time, the conversion processes between humans and soil were common knowledge.” — df

Social Organisms


Magic Transformers of Organic Matter
Project Associates of TNRP

Microorganisms are microscopic, living, single-celled organisms such as bacteria. Ubiquitous throughout the world, microorganisms play a vital role in supporting and maintaining nature and life. Although some bacteria are harmful, the vast majority are not harmful and are in fact beneficial. Without bacteria, life would not be possible.

“Life starts when things are interacting across living kingdoms.” — Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg

“It is time humans start cooking not only for themselves but support other species in their work of digestion. ” — mw

“Microbes are the denizens of the soil as they go about their invisible work of creative destruction.” — Michael Pollen

“Composting is the transformation of life to death, and to life again.” — Sandor Katz

“Nature doesn't create any waste products.” — Lynn Landes

“As emergent systems we are individual parts that communicate with one another by modifying our local environment.” — Wikipedia

“Microorganisms constitute 10% of total dry weight in the human body.” — Wikipedia


The Kurikuru tribe in Amazonia, pre-Columbian and Mayan civilizations – inventors and stewards of Terra Preta, the Yorta Yorta people of Murray River (NSW) – ancient cultivators of Terra Preta Australis, Hermann Paulenz (Environmental Engineer), Prof. Ralf Otterpohl (director Institute of Wastewater Management and Water Protection, Hamburg University of Technology), Madoka Yoshitomi, Working Bees of SLC Sustainability Learning Community gardening crew, Clare Harrison, Paul and Serena Farrelly, Helen King, Jonathan McCabe, Kate Horgen, Simone Dilkara, Gerry Gillespie, Marko Heckel (TriaTerra, Groß Pankow), Siew Fung Then and Reto Hofmann, Verity Alexandra, Wuqi Riletu, Luigi Tomba, David Brophy, Ying Qian, Mary Walta, Dr. David Dumaresq, C. Dean and Dr. David Freudenberger, Shane West, Teifi Caron, Mick Kelly, Jennifer McMillin, Melinda Walker, Clare Harrison, Roy Schmid, Kristen and Chris Daniels, Donna Haraway (author of The Companion Species Manifesto), and the indispensable universe of microbes and social organisms.


GROWING MEDIA for Ornamental Plants and Turf: Interactions between Organisms, Kevin Handreck and Neil Black, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2002, pp. 377-394.