Climate change will affect all aspects of our lives, even some unexpected ones like our daily visits to the toilet. Long lasting droughts or heavy rainfall and floods might require a revision of our water closet and sewage systems. In that sense we could learn a lot from a waterless loo project in Madagascar.

We reported earlier on Loowatt, a British start-up that markets waterless toilets that turn human waste into energy. In Britain the technology is used at festivals, but with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Loowatt started a pilot project in Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo, where a good sewage system is non-existent.

The Loowatt toilet uses a patented, simple and efficient sealing technology to contain human waste within biodegradable film, with a unique odor-inhibiting system. The waste is then stored in a cartridge for periodic emptying. After collection the waste can be turned in biogas and fertilizer. Autodesk Foundation, partner in the WDCD Climate Action Challenge, supports the development of Loowatt.

Little development in toilet sector

Loowatt was founded by Virginia Gardiner, who after her studies in comparative literature started to work for an architecture and design magazine covering industry events. ‘I was the youngest on the edit team. Nobody else wanted to go to the kitchen and bath industry shows, so I did,’ Gardiner recently told to Lina Zeldovich in a contribution to Mosaic.

After noticing that there was little development in the toilet sector, Gardiner decided to focus her Master’s thesis at the Royal College of Art in London on a waterless toilet system.

Pilot public toilet

An investor who heard about the project invited Gardiner to come to Madagascar, where Loowatt at first set up a pilot public toilet system as a collective alternative for outhouses or latrines. A custom made digester turns the waste into biogas, that is used to produce electricity. Toilet users can get hot water for a shower or telephone charges in return from the facility.

Following the public project, Loowatt began to install private toilets too, that are regularly emptied by a local Loowatt team. Already 100 households now have a single Loowatt toilet installed, serving some 800 people. It costs the residents some 3,50 euros a month, which is a lot of money for many people in the area but still doable in comparison to the also costly and messy emptying of traditional latrines every half year.

Zeldovich’s long read on Mosaic beautifully describes the experience of the Madagascans with the waterless toilet that eventually could benefit all the estimated 2.4 billion people who lack access to basic toilet facilities according to the World Health Organization. And, for that matter, all of us – when droughts turn our toilets dry or floods fill our sewage systems to the rim.