Loowatt’s Design & Lifecycle Engineer, Fernanda Costa, shares her insights on eco-packaging.
Fernanda leads the development and design of Loowatt’s polymer toilet refills, processing and product usability and lifecycle. Fernanda has 13 years in design and commercial development of novel packaging systems and products for large consumer clients including TetraPak, McDonalds and Pret A Manger.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced when designing sustainable packaging?
The biggest challenge is specifying materials for packaging that have great mechanical properties whilst having the best credentials at an affordable price.
The definition of sustainable packaging can be interpreted in many ways; for instance, considering plastic bottles, if the goal is to reduce carbon emissions and use of resources, using post-consumer recycled plastics is always better than virgin plastics. But it will still produce plastic, which ideally must be recycled again. Sadly, only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling (but this is a complex and global infrastructure problem - one that deserves its own post! For today, check out this troubling news piece).
Another issue is understanding industry jargon and conveying that jargon to consumers; some plastics (PET, PE) come from sustainable sources (e.g. sugarcane) but will not biodegrade; the plastic is still plastic but doesn’t come from oil, and it looks absolutely the same. As a designer and a consumer, I am aware that due-diligence whilst doing the weekly shop can be exhausting.
Are there any companies or products that are leading the way in sustainable packaging?
It is refreshing to see innovation such as laser etch labeling in fruit and veg, which was first trialled by Swedish supermarket group ICA. It totally removes the need for any added wrapper or label, reducing the amount of material sent to landfill, which is in fact much more attractive to consumers who care about over-packaging.
I’m a big fan of mushroom packaging as a 100% biodegradable replacement for polystyrene which can also be used for insulation boards and furniture products. It’s not mainstream yet, but it can be in the future.
The disruptive Ooho! water capsule is made from a seaweed membrane which is edible, eliminating the plastic bottle altogether – a perfect solution for localised water distribution at public events. Although they are in early stages of development, start-up 'Skipping Rocks Lab' show a lot of promise.
What is the Loowatt refill and why is it so special?
The most difficult aspect of making a waterless toilet is transporting human waste. Loowatt’s refill, combined with the sealing technology, make this possible in a clean and efficient way. Just a few grams of biopolymer film—compared to thousands of grams of water—will do the same job. So the Loowatt refill is the core consumable that makes our toilets work; plastic film replaces the water in the Loowatt toilet by acting as a medium to carry the waste away from the bowl, containing the waste safely.
How has life-cycle assessment informed the design of Loowatt’s refill specification?
Our aim has always been to close the loop and support resource recovery. We have been focussed mostly on generating resource from waste through anaerobic digestion, in which human waste is transformed into energy and the Loowatt refill decomposes into nutrient rich bio-solids as microorganisms break down the polymer. Looking ahead, the world of polymer films is constantly and rapidly evolving. Recent news about the terrible plastic gyres in the oceans are helping to spur the ongoing development of biodegradable and marine degradable plastics, and the pressure to better manage all plastic waste.
At Loowatt closing the loop is our core company value. The material spec of our polymer film refills goes hand in hand with the local plan for their resource recovery. For example, in some contexts, locally sourced compostable film might be more appropriate than imported anaerobically digestible films; in others, you could substitute a locally sourced recyclable film. It’s simply critical to guarantee that all of the material has a reasonable production footprint and is being treated in closed-loop systems.
In London, Sadiq Khan plans to roll out a network of water fountains and bottle-refill stations to help reduce the use of single-use packaging, such as plastic water bottles. What are your thoughts on this strategy?
I think its fantastic! And a big challenge, as it will not serve the interests of the profitable bottled water industry. It will require re-education and changes in behaviour in order to make it work, but who wouldn’t like to save a few quid and help reduce plastic waste?
In early October, while pneumonic plague was spreading in Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar, the youth block of the city’s central prison encountered an untimely and potentially deadly situation.
The prison, which hosts 145 young people between the ages of 13 and 19, was required to enforce an isolation procedure, to avoid infection reaching the general prison community. The young offenders live in two cramped rooms, so transmission of the disease would be impossible to control and would inevitably result in a number of deaths. Such dramatic quarantine conditions are necessary; each year, the plague has claimed many lives within the prison. As the number of victims seems to have increased this year in the capital, the Malagasy people require help and support through this alarming epidemic.
The untimely event that occurred, was the complete obstruction of the toilets serving each of the 2 rooms, leaving the young prisoners without a functioning toilet and with dramatically increased health risks associated with faecal contamination. With repairs to the prisons’ toilets estimated to take over a month, the NGO Grandir Dignement, which works to improve the conditions for incarcerated youth in Madagascar, reached out to Loowatt for an emergency solution.
In just two days, Loowatt was able to deploy toilets to the prison and teach the children on the hygienic use and servicing of the toilets. This quick and efficient intervention highlights the versatility of Loowatt’s technology, particularly in disaster relief situations.
All content from this post is taken from Lina Zeldovich's article for Mosaic Science which can be read in full here.
"Traditional flush toilets aren’t an option in many parts of the world, but neither is leaving people with unsafe and unhygenic choices. Now, one company is piloting a new loo that's waterless, off-grid and able to charge your phone. Lina Zeldovich travels to Madagascar to witness the start of a lavatorial revolution."
Lack of toilets is not a problem unique to Madagascar. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 2.4 billion people lack access to basic toilet facilities, and nearly 1bn can’t even do their business in private, practising so-called ‘open defecation’, resorting to fields, street gutters or creeks. Many countries, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, face similar sanitation challenges, says Francis de los Reyes at North Carolina State University, who designs sanitation management solutions for developing counties.
In Loowatt’s waterless flush design, the waste is sealed into a biodegradable bag underneath the toilet with not a drop of water being spilled. Once full, the bag is replaced by a service team, and the waste is brought (yes, hand-delivered) to Loowatt’s pilot waste-processing facility, where it’s converted to fertiliser and biogas.
Loowatt’s London-based founder and CEO Virginia Gardiner never thought she’d end up designing 21st-century toilets. When she graduated from Stanford University in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature, she couldn’t have been further removed from the engineering challenges of processing human waste. But then she went to work as a reporter for an architecture and design magazine, Dwell, 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,” she recalls. One of the things that struck her was that architectural concepts evolved constantly, except for toilets, which seemed to remain the same for ever.
In their basic appearance, Loowatt toilets don’t look much different from our Western johns, with their plastic seats and flushing handles, which come in the form of a pedal or a rope you pull. But instead of releasing a swirl of water into the basin, this move activates the white biodegradable film that envelopes and seals the waste, pushing it into a collector underneath the toilet, all odour-free. Loowatt’s service team replaces the biodegradable bag once a week, or more often if it fills up sooner.
The Loowatt setup isn’t free – residents pay about £12 as a deposit for a toilet (which remains Loowatt’s property) and about £3 a month for service. For Madagascar, where some families exist on £1 a day, this isn’t cheap. But Rartjarasoaniony tells me she finds it acceptable. Maintaining a latrine costs more. “We have to empty it every six months, and it is really expensive,” she explains, not to mention the unsightly mess it creates. The manual process is done by ‘informal emptiers’ – usually men who show up with buckets to chug the goo into containers, dropping splotches of repugnant gunk around the yard for her egg-laying hens to peck at.
Does Loowatt’s approach have the potential to change how the world processes its waste? The company is working on introducing the concept to other countries – in Africa, Asia and Europe. In the UK, for example, Loowatt toilets are already being used at festivals and outdoor events, generating good revenue. “Here in Madagascar, the average price we can charge people to use our toilets is £3 a month,” Segretain says. “In the UK, with our festival toilets, if people pay as they go, they pay £3 per use. It’s a completely different scale.”
All content from this post is taken from Lina Zeldovich's article for Mosaic Science which can be read in full here.
We were ecstatic to win the Green Supplier Award at this years’ Festival Supplier Awards. The awards ceremony is an annual chance for festival suppliers to connect and celebrate achievements in the industry, from bars to toilets, from sound systems to green initiatives.
Our story in the UK events industry began in 2014, when Loowatt piloted its first event waterless toilet trailer at Latitude Festival, with funding support from Innovate UK.
In 2015, we built two more units and provided toilets to several festivals including Port Eliot and Lambeth Country Show.
In 2016, we expanded our fleet to 7 trailers and served 9 events including Port Eliot, Wilderness and Festival No.6, proving that our robust technology is here to stay.
In 2016 Loowatt also won RELX Group Environmental Challenge and Green Supplier & Innovation Award at the Showman’s Show.
Victoria Chapman, Sustainability Coordinator for Festival Republic, presented the Green award and the award category was sponsored by Vision 2025, a pledge conceived as part of The Show Must Go On report. Vision 2025 brings together festivals that wish to take action to create a sustainable future. The ever-growing list of participating festivals includes Reading & Leeds, Shambala and Latitude Festival.
The Festival Supplier Awards Judges said:
‘Judges loved this innovative solution commenting that it was – a fantastic idea with lots of potential, an all-round solid sustainable product and company, a great transformative tech with potential for scalability that demonstrated a reduction in carbon footprint.’
2016 has been an incredible year for Loowatt. Here are just some of the highlights.
Loowatt is now serving 100 households in Madagascar.
We are providing safe, clean and comfortable toilets for the people of Antananarivo, and as part of that process we have introduced valuable business opportunities for the local community.
RELX Group Environmental Challenge first prize.
Judges of the RELX Group Environmental Challenge awarded Loowatt the $50,000 First Prize for the world’s best sustainable water and sanitation projects at SIWI World Water Week in Stockholm. We were recognised as an organisation that offers a replicable and scalable sanitation solution and sets a high standard for innovation in our field. Our practical toilets also address accessibility issues for women and create new local business opportunities.
The Loowatt mobile application provides convenience for our customers.
With support from GSMA, our mobile application facilitates waste management for our customers. By uniting sanitation and mobile services in Madagascar, we are able to gather and transmit information on toilet servicing and waste management within the Loowatt systems.
Impressive media recognition
Loowatt's work has been covered by the likes of The Guardian, Elsevier, GSMA and our local Brixton Bugle. We want to spread the word that the sanitation crisis needs to be addressed. In-depth media coverage brings attention to this vital human issue, and helps Loowatt advance and grow.
Green Supplier & Innovation Award at the Showman's Show.
What the judges said: “A truly innovative toilet solution that combines luxury with low impact; eliminating the need for flush water, and harnessing the waste for production of biogas. A system that provides event market and development application.
Loowatt's Head of Design Chris Holden was shortlisted for the British Engineering Excellence Award.
The BEEAs identify designers and design teams who are contributing quality engineering design to the UK industry. Before coming to Loowatt, Chris worked as an engineer and design consultant in sectors ranging from household gadgets to military hardware. His talent and expertise have been recognised by being shortlisted for the British Engineering Excellence Award.
Thank you for your continuous support. We're expecting big things in 2017!
Can the design of the toilet (and its infrastructure) change?
This was the question asked by the editors of Dirty Furniture magazine. Well, the answer is Absolutely! But… Its success depends on so many factors such as country of application, cultural acceptance, cost, and so on. I was invited to participate in the Toilet break debate series alongside Pete Codling, Industrial Designer. We took turns elaborating on the issue and presenting our work.
Pete presented his squat toilet design, an innovative re-think of the modern ‘throne’. A fusion between the conventional western toilet, but with features designed so the user sits on a squatting position; his toilet is novel and yet familiar; it is ergonomic and elegant. Squatting is proven to be a better position for a full evacuation and Pete’s toilet is an attractive solution for westerners not used to squatting, but seeking a better toilet posture.
I presented Loowatt’s system, with examples of our work in the UK and Madagascar and our design development to date. The way to explain the challenges we face in our sanitation proposition is to think of it as ‘system’ rather than just ‘the toilet’; and the hurdles of scaling up into a commercial solution. Dirty Furniture’s editors Anna Bates and Elizabeth Glickfeld led the discussion, and got the audience involved in the Q & A. Dirty Furniture is an independent design publication of 6 editions, each tackling a piece of furniture: Couch, Table, Toilet, Closet, Telephone and Bed, and this event marked the launch of Dirty Furniture issue 3 – Toilet.
The talks were held at a subterranean hub, also showing The Shit Museum's latest collection. The Museo della Merda, as it is called in Italian, is an amazing space near Milan filled with objects made of Merdacotta, a unique blend of cow dung and clay. This fantastic initiative is the brainchild of farming entrepreneur Gianantonio Locatelli, who joined forces with architect Luca Cipelletti, curator Gaspare Luigi Marcone and gallerist Massimo Valsecchi, to showcase the potential uses and benefits of waste material. Collected from a dairy farm which makes milk for Grana Padano cheese, the daily deposits of 3,500 specially selected cows, (about 150,000 kilos of dung), goes into plates, cups vases and furniture and also generates energy through Anaerobic Digestion. This exhibit is located at the Brompton Design District, on show until the 25th September 2016.