It’s hard to imagine something as filthy as a toilet being used to grow food. Yet that’s exactly what one Swedish architect hopes to do in the developing world. Anders Wilhelmson is working on the Peepoo, a single-use, biodegradable bag that acts as both toilet and natural fertilizer.

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It may sound gross, but “flyaway” or “helicopter” toilets (where people defecate in a plastic bag and toss it) are actually a huge problem in urban slums in countries like Kenya. The United Nations estimates that about 2.6 billion people, or 40 percent of the world’s population, do not have access to toilets. Improper sanitation contaminates drinking water, leading to massive public health and environmental problems.

The Peepoo is similar to the often-used flyaway toilets, but much greener. After using the biodegradable bag, folks can simply knot it up and bury it in a nearby field. A layer of urea crystals kills all disease-causing pathogens in the waste and breaks it down into fertilizer. As the bag decomposes, it releases the purified waste, enriching the soil with nutrients. Slums in Kenya contain open fields which could be used to bury the bags and grow various crops, almost like an urban farm.

Wilhelmson expects the bags to cost about two to three cents, comparable to the price of traditional plastic supermarket bags. While it’s great that people can use the bags as much-needed toilets, wouldn’t it also be a good idea to use cheap, biodegradable bags at the grocery stores and other shops? After all, traditional plastic bags are a huge problem in a lot of places, especially because they’re produced with petroleum and can take 20 to 1,000 years to decompose.

+ Peepoo

Via New York Times