There’s power in poo.  

Technology company LooWatt has developed a brand-new kind of toilet. For one, it doesn’t use any water; instead, it traps human waste in a biodegradable film, which is then sealed and transported to a central facility.  At that facility, the excrement is turned into electricity that can charge cellphones and into fertilizer that can help grow plants.

A vision of putting waste to work, to power those extended bathroom breaks. (Jay Zehngebot/illustration)

 

Step 1. Take a number one (or a number two, whatever). Step 2. Waste is collected in biodegradable bags, and transported to a central ‘digester’. Step 3. Decomposition creates biogas, which is siphoned off and stored. Step 4. Biogas is used to power a generator, cleanly creating electricity. Step 5. The electricity charges your smartphone. (Jay Zehngebot/illustration)

 

While you’re not going to find these toilet systems in your pals’ homes anytime soon, you may see them at summer music festivals in the UK, including Noisily Festival, Arcadia Bristol, and Electric Picnic 2017.  But the company has bigger plans than becoming a festival porta-potty purveyor.  

Indeed, this type of toilet system is critical in cities like Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, where LooWatt has a pilot program. In Antananarivo roughly half the residents have to fetch the water they use every day.  This system provides a way to safely get rid of human waste without having to use valuable water.


Moreover, as 20-30% of the world’s population is projected to experience water scarcity by 2020, the fact that about 1-3 gallons of water is spent per flush of a standard toilet is likely not sustainable.

Still, the company has some big hurdles before its toilets are widely used and available. For starters, because the bagged waste needs to be manually collected and transported to a processing center, it’s difficult to imagine apartment-dwellers opting for this.