Gallery: LIVING MACHINES: Clean, Green Waste-Water Recycling

John Todd's Living Machines

Resembling something like a tropical forest, John Todd’s attractive solution to waste-water management uses plants to clean up water. Consisting of a series of ecosystems that work together to break down water contaminants, Todd’s approach offers a natural and eco-friendly alternative to costly traditional water treatment plants. The concept was recently awarded a Buckminster Fuller Award for its elegant application in cleaning up Appalachia’s water supply, and has been adopted and adapted by many eco-minded individuals around the country.

Converting sewer sludge to fresh water is no easy job; traditional treatment plants consume massive amounts of money, energy, and resources. John Todd’s innovative solutions for waste-water management re-envision the process as an eco-conscious endeavor, conserving water and reducing overall treatment costs with minimal sludge disposal, water purchases, sewer surcharges, and chemical use.

Part natural and part man-made, John Todd and his firm re-organize natural resources to transform water from dirty to clean. In their most basic design, waste-water pulses through a minimum of three different ecological systems that process and filter it in different ways. Each ecological system is isolated from the others so that it can treat waste-water based on its own unique needs, after which the water cycles on to the next community.

Since the technology uses “helpful bacteria, fungi, plants, snails, clams and fish that thrive by breaking down and digesting pollutants”, selecting and then cultivating diverse communities is key in order for all compounds to be treated. The magic lies in understanding how the organisms interact and combining them just right so that they can soak up the nutrients they love, helping them grow while providing us with clean – if not drinkable – water.

Since their inception, these eco-friendly contraptions have seen a variety of applications. Their rather remarkable use of living organisms makes them a shoe-in for use as an educational tool, as they are at Oberlin College, and the have also popped up at resorts, lake restoration sites, and even at chocolate maker Ethel M‘s factory in Nevada.

Ed note: We previously referenced John Todd’s work as “Living Machines”- a trademark owned by Worrell Water Technologies who have created a similar form of waste-water management. You can find out more about Worrell Water Technologies here.

+ John Todd


or your inhabitat account below


  1. Green-Roofed Port of Po... November 16, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    […] terminals and more. The project was finished in May of 2010 and it includes a green roof, a living machine to process waste water, geothermal heating and cooling, plus a plethora of other sustainable […]

  2. casshazz82 February 1, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Hi, I am administrator for a publications, and I would like to republish this article in the next online edition of ReWater, a not for profit magazine about news and innovations in recycled water use, available at: the story would hyperlink back to this page and also to John Todds website. Is this possible? Thanking the wonderful Inhabitat team!

  3. rob888 August 9, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    You may want to doublecheck the Ethel M Living Machine–I think I heard that the parent company, Mars, closed it down because it was too costly. Not sure, but I think that it no longer is in operation.

  4. DeadPanDan August 7, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Most water treatment plants look very industrial. Very NIMBY looking.

  5. sandmansd August 6, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    these are awesome… but i don’t get the first line… what does this have to do with a concrete refinery?

  6. Copeland aka Green Mode... August 6, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Also check out Boxerwood, which has been recycling wastewater for ages; and is also Sally Mann\’s family’s farm.

get the free Inhabitat newsletter

Submit this form
popular today
all time
most commented
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
Federated Media Publishing - Home