The People on the Bus Go Flush, Flush, Flush
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because everybody poops.
By Anthea Gerrie
With life-size images of people on potties wrapped around its green and blue frame, the Bio-Bus takes passengers on a ride fueled by human “poo,” as the press release by sewage treatment company GENeco, which fuels the buses, delicately puts it. The U.K.’s first such transit runs on an exquisite mix of human waste supplemented by rotten food waste. It may not be the most pleasant idea, but its environmental credentials are tough to beat.
The Bath Bus Company, operators of the Bio-Bus, is touting low carbon emissions from an endlessly renewable source. And the makers of the fuel say its potential is far-reaching. “The annual waste from one busload of passengers would produce enough power to travel from Lands End to John O’Groats and back,” says Lauren East of GENeco, a division of Wessex Water, referring to the furthest extremities of the U.K. In practice, though, the bus travels only 20 miles — the distance between the tourist city of Bath and Bristol Airport — before turning back.
GENeco built a state-of-the-art plant to treat human sewage and process biomethane: their product fuels 8,000 homes via the national grid in addition to the pilot bus service. They partnered with Bristol Airport and the owners of the Bath Bus Company, which had both expressed interest in upping their green credentials. And with the odorless fuel at half the price of diesel, there’s profit to be had.
We realized passengers might not like looking as though they were sitting on the toilet.
Vikki Annett, Bath Bus Company
Fears of nasty smells have proven unfounded, and rider uptake has been healthy, with nearly 1,000 passengers riding the bus in its first three weeks of operation at £14 (about $21) for a one-way ticket. It could have been thousands, were it not for the fact that the 40-seater is currently limited to only two round-trips per day because of fueling logistics. Vikki Annett, marketing manager of the Bath Bus Company, explains that while diesel buses can be tanked up on site, the Bio-Bus has to travel 19 miles farther to refuel, somewhat diminishing its overall energy savings.
There have also been customer objections to the way the bus has been wrapped with blatant graphics to tell its story. “We originally planned to leave windows clear but realized passengers might not like looking as though they were sitting on the toilet,” says Annett, explaining that the alternative was to black out the windows so passers-by could not see in — which in turn has made it hard for passengers to see out.
The Worldwatch Institute has slammed methane as a major source of global warming that traps 86 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, but Friends of the Earth (FoE) points out that as long as humans live, biofuel from their waste is an endlessly renewable resource. Says FoE biofuel campaigner Kenneth Richter, “We can’t prevent production of this methane, so we might as well collect and use it.”