Imagine you live on a floating lake house. Open air. Chirping crickets. Clear, starry nights. Everything seems great until you need to use the bathroom.
The natural instinct might be to make a deposit in the water. But that wouldn’t be safe. Microbes in your feces would contaminate the water and could cause outbreaks of deadly diseases, like cholera.
A group of engineers in Cambodia wants to solve that problem for the floating villages of Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Over a million people live on or around it. Exposure to wastewater spawns diarrhea outbreaks each year. In Cambodia, diarrheal diseases cause 1 in 5 deaths of children under age 5.
To help clean the lake’s water, engineers at the company Wetlands Work! in Phnom Penh are developing plant-based purifiers, called Handy Pods. The pods are essentially little kayaks filled with plants. They float under the latrine of a river house and decontaminate the water that flows out.
Here’s how it works. When a person uses the latrine, the wastewater flows into an expandable bag, called a digester. A microbial soup of bacteria and fungi inside the digester breaks down the organic sludge into gases, such as carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrogen.
Photo: A pod to pick up your poo: The Handy Pod features floating hyacinth plants placed underneath a houseboat’s latrine. The blue tarp offers privacy. (Courtesy Taber Hand)