Over two-thirds of the world lacks access to sewered toilets, resulting in massive environmental contamination and the spread of disease.
That’s where Loowatt comes in. The London-based company sells waterless toilets that flush, used for urban and portable applications. It also makes use of a circular system, by which waste is collected, processed and converted into biogas to generate electricity, cooking gas or organic fertilizer.
“We’ve built a link that takes human waste to a place where it can be safely and sustainably processed,” says founder and CEO Virginia Gardiner.
Also the system produces “a toilet experience on par with flush toilets,” she says.
How It Works
Toilets have containers that hold waste and are collected by a local service team, which takes them to a waste processing facility. A small portion of the waste is then separated into material to be recycled or composted. The rest is chemical-free human waste, which is turned into feedstock for energy and fertilizer.
There’s also software for managing customer payments in emerging markets and for tracking utilization and collecting data, which can be used to optimize services.
Marketing takes a two-pronged approach. For starters, it’s sold in the UK and used at events and construction sites. “We’ve been used at some of the UK’s fanciest events,” says Gardiner.
In emerging markets, the system is aimed mostly at homes, where households pay a monthly fee and toilets are serviced once a week. For the past five years or so, the company has been testing them out in Madagascar and is now dipping its toes in South Africa, a potentially massive new market. That effort is government-sponsored and Loowatt is working with “major providers in the portable sector,” says Gardiner.
Which entities receive the waste depends on a city’s infrastructure. In Madagascar, it’s fed into a network of small, decentralized anaerobic digesters operated by the city that convert waste into fertilizer and fuel, for example. In the UK, digesters are at bigger, more centralized utilities and the process becomes part of the facility’s operations for waste water treatment.
A Growing interest in Toilets
Gardiner first got interested in the toilet biz when she worked at an architecture and design publication about 20 years ago. While covering a kitchen and bath industry show in Orlando in 2003, she was disturbed when she observed what she perceived to be the industry’s culture. “It was all about consumption of water and resources,” she says. In the toilet section, she assumed she’d find revolutionary water-saving technologies, only to encounter very little.
After that, her interest in the area in grew. Eventually, she decided to master in industrial design engineering at a joint program run by the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. There she worked on a project that became the first version of the Loowatt toilet. In 2010, she started her company.
Switching the Focus
Gardiner then spent the next four years refining the technology, focusing on a b-to-c approach in the UK and Madagascar. But, she came to realize that, to expand, she needed to work with service providers with a lot of infrastructure in place for delivering services, such as utilities or portable toilet servicing companies. In 2017, she created a business in Madascar run and operated by locals to do the servicing for homes and portables.
The company makes money from the sale of the hardware, as well as refills and toilet consumables, software and leasing of waste processing equipment.
Gardiner sees a growing interest overall in what’s known as non-sewered sanitation in urban areas, though she figures it will be a while before the concept is widely embraced. “There’s going to be a tipping point over the next few years. But it hasn’t started happening yet,” she says.