The German Shit Exchange – A Green Economy Innovation: Fears that Brexit will cause traders to leave London for Frankfurt are well founded. The Germans are developing innovative environmentally friendly trading products. Look out for the stink when the FTSE gets wind of this! Plus a video reminder to keep your festive shopping ethical.
In these times of low-interest rates and volatile markets I am always on the look out for novel investment opportunities – especially those in the ‘green’ economy that are ethically appropriate (for example don’t involve child labour – see below).
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Therefore I was interested to read in this morning’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung about the German Güllebörsen which can be roughly translated as their ‘Shit Exchange‘. Buying and selling ‘exchanges‘, like those used to trade commodities, are a useful way of improving economic efficiency. They put those who ‘have‘ in touch with those who ‘want‘. Futures and Options exchanges are an extension of this idea providing people with an opportunity to make the trade at a future date or by merely giving them the ‘option’ of buying or selling a commodity.
But what about when the commodity is poo? Or to be more precise animal poo? For my masters dissertation about 25 years ago I researched setting up a new ‘exchange’ for the chemicals industry. The idea was to help producers and consumers of nasty smelling chemicals buy and sell more efficiently.
Well our German friends have gone one further and on their ‘shit exchange’ you can buy and sell some very nasty smelling products. To investigate this business in more detail I decided to take a look at the Nordrhein-Westfalen Region’s Nährstoffbörse. The word ‘Nährstoffbörse’ translates as ‘Nutrient Exchange‘ which I think uses a bit of artistic licence because it deals with buying and selling excretia from farm animals. I suppose the more descriptive name ‘Animal Shit Trading Website‘ struggled to get through the marketing department’s vetting process.
The necessity to be able to trade in animal poo is underscored in German Law by the ‘Düngeverordnung‘ (Transl: ‘Dung Regulations’) which stipulates that the number of, for example cows or pigs, that a farmer can keep is limited by the availability of land needed to dispose of their poo. The idea behind this law is to control the amount of environmentally unfriendly contaminants like nitrates that get into the soil and then can enter the water table.
This means that a farmer may find he has more poo from his animals than he can use on his own land. This is where he needs the Shit Exchange – a managed way of trading in unwanted animal faeces. There are also other farmers who do not have enough fertiliser for their crops and would really appreciate someone dropping by with a truck load of poo. This demand often peaks in the spring time – precisely the period when animal farmer’s poo tanks are almost overflowing because they can’t ‘spread muck‘ during the winter snow.
The Nordrhein-Westfalen Regional Shit Exchange website provides details of how to take animal poo samples and where to send them. The relevant regional agricultural authority can then arrange sample testing (for a fee) – you need to specify what kind of poo it is – beef or dairy cattle, pig, horse, veal, chicken etc. You take 10 samples from your ‘vat’, mix them in a bucket and then send 0.75L in a bottle by post (specific details here). The sample is then analysed for various chemicals (e.g. Nitrogen, Ammonia, Phosphates, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Solids etc.).
The analysis of the poo is important because as we say up-North: ‘All shit is not the same‘. The chemical characteristics of the poo help to determine its value to a potential customer and whether there is a risk of over-contaminating the local ground water with the wrong substances.
Also ensuring customer and supplier are geographically close is an important job for the exchange. In addition to reducing transport costs this also helps to minimise the number of faeces tankers moving around the German road system. Despite every effort on the part of the suppliers these vehicles can sometimes be a bit smelly. Distance minimization is also important because the vehicles generally have to return empty (it is rather difficult to find other products that you could sensibly transport in a poo tanker – even if you wash it first).
So there you have it – a German environmentally friendly innovation in the area of risk management. In time I am sure they will introduce shit futures and options to further help manage farmers risks. I know that following Brexit there is a big movement to encourage the financial industry to move from the City of London to Frankfurt. Watch out you Brits you may have already missed the boat on the Frankfurt Shit Exchange!
On a slightly more serious note I have already mentioned ethical investments. With the heavy spending period now upon us we need to be careful that our purchases are not on the back of child labour. With this in mind I have added some enlightening photos of children working in the US Coal and Glass industries to my vintage photo collection (the link is here – the pics are all over 100 years old). In addition I have used these pictures in my latest video (music composed and produced by ‘yours truly’). To see this just click on the box below:
Thanks for taking the time to visit my site.
Useful Links: The Nordrhein-Westfalen Region’s Nährstoffbörse
The relevant German Newspaper Article: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
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If you found this article interesting please consider taking a look at some of his other recent reports on similar subjects.
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