Industrial designer Virginia Gardiner has designed not just a new toilet, but a new closed-loop management system that will allow individuals to, basically, recycle their poop. Yeah, I just said that.
But give her idea a few minutes of your attention, because it’s really not as gnarly as it sounds.
A student of the Design London school at Imperial College in London, Gardiner has made a prototypical waterless toilet, called the LooWatt, that is part of a closed-loop energy management concept. It also uses no energy and converts human waste into a commodity. The idea is pretty simple. It starts with a person making a deposit into the toilet. Rather than flushing that organic waste into a sewage system, the person turns a crank that pushes the material into a receptacle lined with a carbon-rich, biodegradable film. The portal into this receptacle is sealed shut once the crank is turned completely and the waste disappears into the tank. (Thus, no odor lingers around the loo.)
The collected poop is then periodically removed (it can be rolled away from the toilet, in the prototype design) and brought to an anaerobic digester, which produces cooking gas from the methane. Then the user cooks food with the gas (or heats a home, or whatever) and the whole process starts over again. Cooked food to poop to gas to cooked food, etc. You can watch Gardiner, a former editor for Dwell magazine, explain the project in this video.
She’s also made a clever website to describe the conceptual system.
This might sound utterly loony to Westerners, and for anyone with a flush toilet, access to a sewage system and existing cooking/heating sources already piped into their homes. But Gardiner claims that there are 2.6 billion people – that’s 40 percent of the world’s population – who do not have access to flush toilets. Given the link between human disease and poor sanitation, it seems Gardiner’s concept would fall on fertile ground, so to speak, in many parts of the world where it could be used a sustainable solution for a lack of sanitation infrastructure.
But as one viewer of the video produced by Dwell noted: those billions of people around the world who can’t afford to live in areas with proper sanitation probably can’t afford this system, either. Perhaps it’s more appropriate for those who choose to live off the grid – rather than those who have to because of lack of resources.
As a means of addressing poor sanitation in impoverished areas, the Peepoo degradable bag seems more appropriate – or at the very least, a good first step in the right direction. Created by Swedish architect Anders Wilhelmson in 2005, this bag is designed to provide a way for those in poverty to safely collect their own waste, which can then be used it as fertilizer. It has been pilot tested in Africa and India.