PeePoo bags render sacks of shit safe for shantytowns

PeePoo bags are alternatives to the "flying toilets" (plastic bags filled with human shit and then flung into the public street) used in Nairobi shantytowns. Created by the company PooPeople, they're lined with a thin gauze layer filled with urea powder, which neutralizes the bacteria in human feces. Once filled, the bags turn the poop into fertilizer, then biodegrade.
The Peepoo is in the form of a slim elongated bag measuring 14 x 38 centimeters. Within the bag there is a thin gauze layer measuring 26 x 24 cm. The Peepoo is filled with urea powder. Without sacrificing ergonomic function, the bag’s design is adapted in every way so that it might be manufactured at as low a price as possible and sold to groups with the weakest purchasing power in the world. The Peepoo is easy to carry and easy to use. It doesn't need any supporting structure, but, for convenience, a small bucket can help a lot.
The Peepoo (via Neatorama)


  1. I spent 3 months in Nairobi in 1993, and wrote a paper on the city’s wastewater infrastructure. Not pretty.

    Be thankful for modern (and by modern, I mean post 1854- see e.g. ) wastewater systems. Basic public sanitation is, in my opinion, the biggest single driver of quality of life in the modern world.

  2. Great idea – Cute name. But similar to the SHE eco-friendly sanitary products pads… Who is going to pay for the purchase and distribution of these bags? Then who is going to make sure that the people who need to use it do so? The flying toilet method is used b/c plastic bags are as ubiquitous as air. Good luck to them though, maybe it will catch on for REI types who are too squeamish to leave their shit in the woods.

    1. As a product designer, I’ve got to agree with Jamie on this one. Like SHE, and the LifeStraw, this looks like the kind of product that is designed to take advantage of the same kinds of colonialist trade asymmetries that created countries with poverty levels conducive to the formation of shantytowns: Buy the raw materials of a country cheap, and sell them back in value-added form (even if it is affordable). Case in point, while PeePoo is biodegradeable, at the pricepoint they are talking about, the urea powder is almost certainly made from petroleum or natural gas, rather than more expensive to refine sources like sewage or agricultural waste.

      The frustrating thing is that this is such a simple product, and one which could be made locally, using local material feedstocks, and paying local laborers, which would arguably more quickly reduce the poverty which caused the sanitation problem in the first place. But even the manufacture of something so simple would be difficult to reliably coordinate (which is why centralized sewage treatment systems have been so difficult to implement in informal communities in the first place). And the fact that this provides an (albeit imported) solution to people are suffering NOW is a compelling argument: Something is better than Nothing, right?

      I think there is actually a third option: Import the product, but open source the design and manufacture. Basically, PeePoople should put their money where their mouth is. Share everything they know about making their product. If they really are the best at it, then more power to them, and they will continue to service this need. But, if an innovator within the informal community (shantytown) figures out a way to make the same product, or one with similar function, from local materials, and starts to compete, then even better. Because fixing sanitation is the point, right? Because if the point is simply to make money, then PeePoople shouldn’t have created a biodegradeable bag – they could have made money on both ends by starting a sanitation collection business as well.

      In fact, taking this even further, maybe PeePoople needs an entirely new business model: Success = Irrelevance. They should set themselves up, not as a non-profit, but an… anti-profit? Start selling this product into the market, but then re-invest all their profits into efforts to both expand their market penetration, and educate local competitors using local feedstocks. Over time, they would slowly lose market presence, as they identified, converted, and then lost all available markets to their own home-grown competition. Success = failure. Time for the next project.

      The concept of Open Hardware begs for these types of new business models. It’s time we recognized that we aren’t really ever after pure profit with business — and at the same time, intentionally profitless businesses are sort of a sad irony also. Free information changes Books for sure, and the culture that derives from them. But I think it also changes the materio-political world as well. I’m trying to figure out just how far at

      I’d love to hear what other people think. And thanks Cory, for the chance to (I hope)start the conversation.

    2. “Who is going to pay for the purchase and distribution of these bags?”

      I work for Oxfam. We distribute these things in the tens of thousands to beneficiaries in the first phase of setting up a refugee camp. It really helps deal with the poo problem before we’ve managed to get proper latrines set up. Of course, we also try to educate people at the same time as to why they need to use these — they really do help everyone stop dying of cholera.

      1. Thanks for this key detail – it wasn’t clear if these were some new concept product, or something that has actually seen use. Glad to hear that it’s apparently available (and presumably quite inexpensively) and actually useful.

      2. Missed your response before I posted below — I agree that these kinds of products can be useful in short term emergency response programs, but it looks like the developers are pitching them as a long term solution to informal neighbourhoods’ lack of access to WASH facilities.

  3. If I remember right from dealing with horse manure as compost, excess urea in composted excrement is really harsh to a plant’s roots. It can burn them badly enough to kill the plant. If you want to use it as fertilizer you need to compost it for a fairly long time and let it be rained on so the urea may be leached out. That may not be terribly practical for subsistence farming in a dry climate.

    I mean you could just landfill them but I get the feeling that if people intended or had the means to landfill their bags of waste they wouldn’t be hurling the “flying toilets”.

  4. Wow.  Been thinking a lot recently about Maslow’s hierarchy.  This post makes me really thankful to live in the first world, where “looking for a plastic bag to shit in” isn’t even on the list.

    Thank goodness for people like the inventors of the PeePoo, helping the world’s impoverished lead a slightly less awful life.

    1. This post makes me really thankful to live in the first world, where “looking for a plastic bag to shit in” isn’t even on the list.

      You’ve obviously never lived in a San Francisco Edwardian flat with five roommates and one bathroom. Thank God for yogurt containers.

  5. Apparently the word “loo” came from “gardy-loo!” (from “garde à l’eau!”) which people shouted prior to throwing out their chamber pot contents. Then Bazalgette and modern sanitation arrived. Hope it arrives in the rest of the world, too.

  6. “so that it might be manufactured at as low a price as possible and sold to groups with the weakest purchasing power in the world.”

    The problem is that you will not be able to “sell” to these people. For any difference to be made by this product it needs to be manufactured in such a way that it can be given away.

  7. for a different view on Peepoo and Kibera from Ory Okolloh:

  8. Before people start squealing about composting and humanure and sustainability, think for a minute about why this product was invented. Poor housing/living conditions and poor public sanitation.

  9. Forgive my A-level biology, but would pissing in a regular biodegradable plastic bag after taking a crap in it have the same effect, given the levels of urea within normal human urine?

  10. I have to admit, this is probably the first time I have ever been happy to read about a sack of shit in my life.

    Neat idea.  I would not be surprised if it would be possible to sell them in the USA for campers, hikers and emergency use at a sufficient profit to underwrite below-costs supply in areas that truly need them to improve their life.

    Also note that, if the bag works on animal feces (particularly dog), then a smaller bag for people who desire (or are required by law) to clean up after their pet could also serve as a revenue stream to underwrite the main mission.

    1. That’s exactly the first thing I thought of when I saw this — I’d love to have this for camping! I’m an avid kayaker, and I’ve been on some multi-day trips where we camp out in the middle of the woods with no facilities available. Apparently the proper protocol is to bury your waste and *burn* any tissue used. The Peepoo website said that such tissue can be put in the bag for disposal. And it would be much easier to bury the biodegrable bag that now contains fertilizer!

      1. This kind of thing does exist for camping.  There’s Restop bags, WAG bags, Biffy Bags, etc.  You don’t bury them though, you carry it back out with you.  This is required in lots of places for canyon rafting or mountaineering, and is certainly the responsible thing to do in all high traffic areas.

  11. Why do I find this so depressing? Lets use modern technology to create a sub-standard alternative to good sanitation, a one-use alternative that would require constant payment to some company to replace it.

    Sometimes I wonder if we are not using these technologies to engineer more sustainable, stable, ghettos, rather than trying to actually elevate people and societies out of poverty.

    Maybe I just need more sleep.

  12. Shitn’t we all be using peepoos?

    Instead, we defecate into and waste our clean water, sending it down dilapidated, leaky sewers while we pay a distant manufacturer to make inorganic fertilizers for us from fossil fuels.

    This is not “one-time use”. The second use comes from the fertilizer. How many uses do we get from our food? One only. If we recycled our shit into fertilizer, it would be two. How many uses do we get from a clean bowl of water we’ve dropped a turd into? And by how much do we indebt ourselves for the privelege of defecating into our water and pretending this is “sanitation”? Are we going to have the resources to fix these sewers built close to a century ago? What we’re doing is creating unsustainable ghettos. Take a look about.

    The free altenative is to recycle the shit by old-fashioned composting, but that takes time. These little bags are portable and collectable. They can be easily distributed away from the busy urban centers and out into small farms.

    I think it’s genius. We’ll never do it here though. We’ll let the whole system fall apart of its own weight before humbling ourselves to shit in a bag.

    1. “Shouldn’t we all be using peepoos?”

      No. Indoor plumbing is incredibly energy efficient, convenient, and scales easily for high population densities. Buying plastic bags, shitting in them, and carting them away is none of those things. And water is not single use, it’s infinite use – it’s called the water cycle. All that clean water you’re drinking was once dinosaur pee, consumed by living things, mixed with waste, and excreted into a billion times over.

      That urban streets are no longer filled with human shit in most of the world is surely one of the most unambiguously positive developments of the last 200 years.

      1. “And water is not single use, it’s infinite use – it’s called the water cycle.”

        That’s an absurdly simplistic statement. Tell that to the folks who live in Las Vegas, the Southwest USA and dozens of other communities throughout the world who are experiencing increasingly limited water supplies. That infinite use, water cycle concept of yours _sounds_ nice, though.

        “All that clean water you’re drinking was once dinosaur pee, consumed by
        living things, mixed with waste, and excreted into a billion times over.”

        Ridiculous. First of all, the water in my city (Omaha) isn’t all that clean (though I don’t think it’s dinosaur pee) it stinks coming out of the tap and it’s heavily treated with carcinogenic chemicals. That’s why I feel the need to visit a water supply shop near my home every few weeks, which sells local water treated via the reverse osmosis process. This water is pretty clean (at least it doesn’t stink and tastes good/benign/doesn’t have taste).

        The vast majority of the Earth’s present clean water supply was created by the ongoing, dynamic conditions within it’s atmosphere and deposited into it’s underground aquifers and oceans. It doesn’t have anything to do with dinosaur pee consumed by living things mixed with waste and excreted into a billion times over.

  13. I enjoy thinking about what are appropriate technologies/products for developing regions. While these bags seem a decent-enough “soft” solution to a lack of “hard” sanitation infrastructure, they represent a huge shift from the current behaviors regarding the treatment (or lack there of) of human waste.

    For target sewage and water free slums to benefit from this product, I see two main problems:
    1. How to change current behavior so that when these bags are accessible to the population they are actually used.
    2. How to saturate the market so that they can provide competition to the free solution that people were already using. “Affordable” should only be used when people are paying for a good or a service. In these situations any price that is charged renders and item unaffordable. An open hardware model may work here, but there has to be a market so that the local entrepreneurs would see the business opportunity. Otherwise, why bother.

    Big ups to the Oxfamies for giving these things away. Hopefully they have the
    leverage and structure of the refugee camp environment to ensure that
    some of the bags are used. Refugees in internationally coordinated camps
    should have expectations that they must align their behavior in
    response to imposed environmental controls (and temporarily horrible
    conditions). Refugee camps are temporary but they are anything but
    informal, and with their formality may come a willingness to adopt
    strange new habits and acquire strange new skills. The question is will this fleeting exposure drive longer-term shifts in expectations and demands of their living environments informal or otherwise.

  14. What the PeePoo’s developers fail to understand is that the sanitation, health, housing, agricultural production, livelihoods, and other issues of great concern for people in poor countries are not problems solveable by technical innovation and great products alone. We’ve seen hundreds of wonderfully sound ideas fail because their development and implementation wasn’t driven by the people who they aim to assist. Helping people/communities to identify their existing capacities and things they want to change, and giving them support to come up with their own solutions (which may or may not involve use of rich-country-designed shiny products) is much more effective that treating complex social issues as engineering or design problems.

    1. I assure you, the developers of PeePoo are very well aware of the problems you mentioned and how to solve them.
      The idea for PeePoo came after the architect Anders Wilhelmsson had visited and studied many townships around the world for years. After discussions with people/communities they realized this was a possible and realistic way to at least do something.
      Of course it can’t solve ALL problems in these areas, but before you complain about this, what have you done to help the situation? Have you singlehandedly prevented thousands and thousands of people from getting cholera for example?

      As someone mentioned earlier, this has to do with Maslow. Preventing people to die in the thousands is a pretty good start for enhanching their conditions in other ways. (a dead person doesn’t have the ambition to climb maslows steps as much as a live one does ;)

  15. I’m curious as to how much it costs for enough of these bags, as compared to how much any random naysayer pays for the water they use for waste disposal and specific sanitation/city taxes they are instead required to pay? 

  16. “No. Indoor plumbing is incredibly energy efficient, convenient, and scales easily for high population densities. Buying plastic bags, shitting in them, and carting them away is none of those things.”If it scaled so easily, there would be indoor plumbing all over the developing world, yes? I’m well aware of the water cycle, and I’m also aware that it is predicted that wars in the future will be fought over the dwindling resource of fresh water. I just don’t see indoor plumbing happening in every home in Nairobi. We need to get real over our current situation: population explosion happening at the same time fossil fuels are going in decline. The peepoo may not be the ultimate solution in all places, but it addresses the way we dispose of our shit in a responsible way. In China, human excrement is still shipped off to farms. Shipping bags of fertilizer out to the countryside is no less efficient than shipping your arugula in from Chile to your fancy suburban market.We are going to have to adjust the way that we live so that things are done at the local level, and this means starting with the way we get our food and dispose of our shit. Sitting back in technocomputer fantasy land pretending we can go on with business as usual and that everyone in the world can live like Americans (used to) doesn’t make sense. We cannot afford our way of life anymore, else our sewers would not be falling apart all over the country with no means to repair them, yes? If we can’t afford it, how can Nairobi?As I said, we’ll hold on to these fantasies and refuse to humble ourselves to making major changes until the whole system just falls apart. And then we’ll be shitting under freeway underpasses, behind the shuttered Walmart, or in abandoned houses.

Comments are closed.