8 April 2024

Waste not, want not: Wollongong one step closer to Pootopia thanks to Culture Bank grant

| Zoe Cartwright
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people lined up to use a toilet

Happy punters queue to use the VIPoo toilet at Yours and Owls Festival. Photo: Pootopia.

How much do you think poo is worth?

It’s not an abstract question – Wollongong artists Kim Williams and Lucas Ihlein are on a mission to show how valuable human poo can be.

They’re not alone. Their project – ‘Pootopia’ – is one of the recipients of the most recent round of Culture Bank funding.

The dream for Pootopia is to show how human manure can be used to improve soil health, rather than being flushed away.

The idea emerged (ahem) when Kim and Luca were working with the sugarcane industry in Queensland.

“We built bespoke composting toilets to illustrate the way human poo and wee can be part of a regenerative cycle,” Kim said.

“These toilets were a real success, and we had a vision to take it further.

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“At Yours and Owls we had a bespoke single composting toilet, made it a fun and educational event called VIPoo, so there were concierges for the toilet. We paid users in Shitcoin, which could be traded for items on offer at the festival.

“We eat, we poo, we compost, we grow food, it’s a cyclic thing so we try to dismantle that yuk factor people have, so we had an economist and an engineer there to talk to users and passers-by.

“It’s also something that’s inherently funny – you can always have a laugh.”

The initial Pootopia project was funded by an interdisciplinary grant through the University of Wollongong.

Kim believes interdisciplinary collaboration is one of the most effective ways to solve real-world problems, like waste and declining soil health.

She was fascinated by the way we view human excrement, and thinking about the rich possibilities available to us if we were able to change that perspective.

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“These are actually really valuable resources, and instead of using them, we waste fresh drinking water to flush them down the toilet, then pump them out to sea,” she said.

“How is that sensible?

“Like all other animals, we eat and we excrete. From an environmental point of view, it’s a no-brainer.

“We got two economists, an engineer and a scientist on board because the overarching aim is to examine the infrastructure, health and economic challenges involved in using composting toilet systems and creating humanure on a large scale.

“The goal for the Pootopia bespoke toilet installation is to create a bit of public discussion around what we do with these valuable resources.”

With the help of the Culture Bank grant, Kim and Luca hope to bring Pootopia to the broader Illawarra public by working with other local event organisers.

Top of the list for potential partners are the Greenplan plant sale, and the Botanic Gardens, as well as another potential Yours and Owls installation.

To learn more about Pootopia, head to GLIMPSES OF POO-TOPIA – a new magazine about human manure composting (pootopia.art)

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