Gallery: The Incredible Story Of How The Burj Khalifa’s Poop is Trucked...


You’d think that the world’s tallest building – a structure that requires amazingly complex engineering and technology to reach its heights – would have an equally impressive sewage system. Unfortunately, that’s not the case because it isn’t hooked up to a municipal wastewater treatment system – so when you poop in the Burj Khalifa, that waste is actually trucked out of the city. Trucked out of the city! We’re frankly flabbergasted by the inefficiency of such a system. One of the world’s most advanced buildings relies on an arcane method to transport wastewater to a treatment facility outside of town. So remember, if you happen to visit and use the Burj Khalifa’s restroom, some unfortunate person has to collect your poop and drive it out of Dubai.

In November, Terry Gross of NPR interviewed Kate Ascher, author of The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper, where she explained what happens to sewage from the Burj Khalifa and other tall buildings in Dubai. There are a host of tall buildings in Dubai and many of them aren’t connected to a municipal sewage system. It seems that construction outpaced installation of such an important component of any multistory building – seemingly with the approval of the city planning department. There is some semblance of a system, but it doesn’t have the capacity to handle the output from an 828 meter tower.

In the interview, Ascher explained that “some [buildings] can access a municipal system but many of them actually use trucks to take the sewage out of individual buildings and then they wait on a queue to put it into a waste water treatment plant. So it’s a fairly primitive system.” Trucks often wait in line for up to 24 hours before they can offload their payload. As Gizmodo calculated, a full building with 35,000 people would produce 7 tons of poop per day, plus all the additional wastewater for showers, brushing your teeth and so on, totaling up to 15 tons per day of wastewater.

The inefficiency of such a system is mind-boggling and raises the issue of how architecture is more than just designing a great building. Architects must also consider the impact of their building on the rest of the city and how it will interact with it. It’s all fine and good to build the world’s tallest building, but if you have to remove the waste via inefficient and costly trucks, then you’ve failed.

Via Archinect and Gizmodo

Images ©Burj Khalifa


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  1. Ashish Thakur December 1, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    complexities of the mind are just and natural too. burj khalifa has nothing to do with it, why target attention, the governance failed again, seriously do you all so called protectors of the world, have you done anything other than just talk.

  2. roughdesigns November 29, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    Some fascinating date stamps on comments, up to a year ago, on an article dated today. I gather Inhabitat is re-purposing work? How ecological!
    Christopher – so true, the math is crap, pun intended. Gizmodo should stay away from A/E. 35,000 people just working in building will produce at least 20 tanker trucks (20,000 gals) ea per day, with just 10% added for building cleaning etc. However, 20 tanker trucks a day isn’t a big deal and may not be all that inefficient. Workers are imported from SE Asia, paid nothing, live in cargo containers, fuel costs almost nothing. Pipelines, their ditches, backfill, concrete manholes, collection chambers, pumps, power to run, engineering, repair, cleaning, etc. are costly, are high in embedded carbon / energy.
    Also, the idea was to attract Europeans to spend money and supplement fossil fuels which will run out, so the important stuff to build were the buildings, not the infrastructure.

  3. Kafkian November 29, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    This building represents with accuracy the whole unsustainable structure of cities and how they’re doomed to collapse. People eat what was once soil nutrients, NPKs. Regardless of how far a sewer takes shit, it never filters the whole 100% of nutrients contained in food and excreted through sewers, that once were topsoil. If you consume some food produced 200 miles, you have to take the shit and urine back the same 200 miles, to maintain 100% of topsoil integrity so it is able to produce the same exact amount of food. This is basic soil nutrient math. Right now, cities Worldwide can only be maintained through topsoil nutrient mines which will exhaust in a pair of decades, and all hell will break loose. Ideally, the best way is to replace the sewer system by composting toilets, so no other pollutants get mixed with the Human manure, and, so that the urine does not mix with shit, accelerating decomposition releasing the carbon trapped increasing methane and co2 emissions. So Dubai has a truck system, while ALL cities AND mega-cities still need to create their own railway or truck topsoil redistribution system.

  4. Reybeez September 7, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Dubai, the entire city, is one big environmental failure. It’s built from petroleum which is going to disappear really soon, and so is Dubai.

  5. mabulola August 5, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    I live in Jeddah city of Saudi Arabia. Trucking out sewage is the only option for the entire city, go figure …

  6. wastewater01 April 19, 2013 at 1:37 am

    The story which you have shared is an interesting as well as knowledgeable. The image which you have shared of “Burj Khalifa” is commendable.

  7. ashley de vos April 6, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Just to congratulate Jill and mike for one great web site
    I spend a heap of time enjoying it, It is excellent, excellent
    Cant say the same about the tallest building in the world. There is something wrong. Architecture is also about responsibility to society. Cities are for people when we forget and our egos get the better of us, This is the out come.
    Keep up the good work.
    Thank you again.

  8. masstika January 5, 2013 at 10:41 am

    This is probably the result of greed and capitalism not lack of design. Infrastructures such as sewage and drainage are paid for by the local government which is in no hurry to build such a system for once because of lack of return on investment and secondly because members of it have a stake in the Business of removing waste from those buildings which total in the millions annually.

  9. Christopher Mardell January 3, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    15 tons of wastewater per day seems unrealistically low. But in any case, trucking the waste might be labour-inefficient but you can’t judge the overall efficiency (and environmental impact) of the system without a proper LCA – and often the results are surprising. A lot of embodied energy goes into any long distance pipeline.

  10. Zephyr Tom December 31, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    I seem to be missing the point. Most modern city’s have modern waste treatment plants. The processed solid waste is often trucked to be applied to farmland. There is a wait period before the waste applied land can be used for cultivation for humans. I am glad it is trucked away and not dumped off-shore. I am interested in learning where the waste water is piped. It can be treated for human consumption, but it is often culturally frond upon. The processed water can be used in domestic agriculture or “golf courses.” Where does the municipal solid waste of “western” cities go and how is it transported.

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