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Poop Could Be the World’s Next Big Energy Resource

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The world is flushing billions of dollars of energy down the drain every year, according to a United Nations research report released this week. The paper, from the United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health, finds that biogas obtained from worldwide supplies of human poop could power up to 138 million homes. 

The UN is determined to halve the world’s untreated wastewater stores by 2030. (Wastewater is any water contaminated by human activity so that it's unsafe to drink.) Much of the world doesn’t have access to adequate sanitation facilities, and an estimated billion people defecate out in the open, causing deadly outbreaks of diarrhea and other illnesses. But in places without sanitation infrastructure, pooping in a field or behind a tree often seems easier than buying toilets and paying for their upkeep. Selling poop’s economic value might help encourage the up-front investment in sanitation, or so the authors of the paper hope.

An anaerobic waste facility in Uganda. Image Credit: Corinne Schuster-Wallace, UNU-INWEH

Biogas, comprised mostly of methane, can be harvested as the bacteria within human waste breaks down inside a sealed container. Afterward, the residue left over can be dried and charred to create a charcoal-like fuel, which also reduces the need to harvest wood for heating. Waste to Wealth—a pilot program in Africa that the Institute for Water, Environment and Health is involved in—is currently testing poop-to-energy technology in institutions like schools and prisons in Uganda. 

Using average estimates for how much a person poops per day and how much energy could be derived from those solids, the report declares that the equivalent of $9.5 billion of natural gas is being thrown or flushed away every year. Even if the waste-energy systems were only used by people who currently practice open defecation, the biogas harvested could be worth more than $200 million per year, generating electricity for more than 10 million households. And suddenly, the clean energy of the future is looking pretty dirty. 

[h/t: CityLab]


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fun
Move Over, Golden Toilet: Now There’s a $100K Louis Vuitton Potty
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Tradesy
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Tradesy

In 2016, the Guggenheim Museum installed a one-of-a-kind, fully functional toilet made of solid gold, created by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan just for the museum. Now, there’s another insanely luxurious art-toilet to look out for—and this one you can take home.

Made by artist Illma Gore for the luxury resale platform Tradesy, the Loo-Uis Vuitton Toilet is covered in $15,000 worth of monogram leather ripped from Louis Vuitton bags. Everything but the inside of the bowl—which is gold—is covered in that instantly recognizable brown designer leather. It's one way to show your brand loyalty, for sure.

The toilet is fully functional, meaning, yes, you can poop in it—although that would require you (at some point) to clean the leather undersides of the seat, which sounds … gross. But then again, the leather is brown, so do what you will.

A toilet art piece stands under a pink neon sign that reads ‘No Fake Shit.’
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Tradesy

Does sitting on it feel like using those squishy-soft toilet seats your grandma has? Please let us know, because we don’t have the $100,000 it would take to buy it for ourselves. Note that while the site sells used goods, the description makes sure to specify that this one is new.

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Design
A Portable Kit Relies on Everyday Items to Bring Toilets to Disaster Zones
Carl Court/Getty Images
Carl Court/Getty Images

If you look at the minimLET, you probably don't immediately think “toilet.” The kit, made by the Japanese design firm Nendo, consists of a piece of white, curved plastic, a sheet of fabric, a segmented aluminum pole, plastic bags, and tissue paper. But to survivors of natural disasters, the device may be the closest thing they get to an actual toilet while living in an emergency shelter.

As Co.Design reports, the minimLET addresses a major issue faced in disaster zones that often goes ignored: the lack of flushing toilets. Earthquakes and hurricanes can leave communities without power and clean drinking water for extended periods of time. They're also capable of destroying sewage systems. But because people can survive without private bathrooms, in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, the lack of toilets doesn't usually get top billing.

There are portable toilets designed for such situations, but most of them are big and bulky, making them hard to deliver to affected areas. In response to disasters like Japan's Tōhoku earthquake in 2011, Nendo devised a better solution: a portable, minimalist toilet that can be set up anywhere.

A plastic toilet seat stands on four aluminum legs.
Nendo

The minimLET toilet is compact enough to slide into a small bag, making it easy to transport and store. To set it up, you just need to secure the plastic seat to the four aluminum legs and attach a plastic bag underneath to act as the toilet bowl. The nylon cloth included in the kit works like a poncho to provide privacy in open areas.

The product is adaptable depending on the needs of the user. For added seclusion, you can also set the seat on plastic water bottles or metal cans weighted down with sand, allowing you to use the aluminum pipes as a tent pole instead of legs for the toilet. Then you can attach a cheap umbrella to the pole and drape the nylon cloth over it to form a makeshift outhouse, as you can see in the video below. The kit’s carrying case doubles as a waterproof pouch that can transport more than 4 gallons of liquid at a time.

That adaptability was a major goal for the design firm. “When living in evacuation shelters in contemporary urban spaces, various everyday items and waste materials are available" like umbrellas and 2-liter soda bottles, as Nendo writes on their website. "It was possible to appropriate such everyday items, due to the fact that these external dimensions, cap sizes, screw shapes, etc. are standardized to some extent to fit the shelves and vending machines in retail stores."

The minimLET is set to make its commercial debut in Japan sometime next year.

[h/t Co.Design]

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