GENco Bio-Bus is a human waste-powered bus servicing the No. 2 route in Bristol, European Green Capital of 2015.

Britain Has a Poo-Powered Bus. But Does Its Design Campaign Stink?

Britain Has a Poo-Powered Bus. But Does Its Design Campaign Stink?

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
April 28 2015 12:03 PM

Britain Has a Poo-Powered Bus. But Does Its Design Campaign Stink?

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Bio-Bus, which is powered by human waste, began a selected run on the No. 2 route last month in Bristol, England, the European Green Capital of 2015.

Courtesy of GENeco

British recycling and renewable energy company GENeco sent its first human waste–powered bus on a maiden voyage to show off the potential of using fecal fuel that doesn’t smell to power local transport last November. The 40-seat Bio-Bus runs on biomethane, gas generated by treating sewage and food waste. It began a limited ongoing service last month on the No. 2 line (pun definitely intended) in Bristol, England, which happens to be the European Green Capital of 2015.

When it came time to design an identity for the Bio-Bus, GENeco didn’t hire an agency to finesse some high-concept graphics. Instead, the company’s in-house PR and team held a brainstorming session with operators at their Bristol sewage treatment works, where the gas is produced.

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GENeco’s Bio-Bus currently refuels at the Bristol sewage works, a logistical hurdle for future expansion.

Courtesy of GENeco

One of the drivers who works on site had the suggested that the best way to convey to the public the eco-friendly but otherwise delicate concept that their own food waste and sewage was powering the bus was to show a bunch of people seated on toilets. GENeco’s in-house design team interpreted this literal-minded idea by fashioning cartoonish graphics to wrap around the bus exterior depicting passengers reading, zoning out on headphones, and knitting—with their pants down on the throne. The cartoon heads were positioned in the bus windows, evoking the image of passengers aboard a giant mobile unisex restroom.

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Even in a country renowned for its affection for toilet humor, this literal, puerile design is a little wanting. And isn't it a bit unfair to make passengers the butt of the albeit lighthearted joke about something we all do but never seem to stop feeling embarrassed about?

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Flowery graphics adorn the front of GENeco's Bio-Bus.

Courtesy of GENeco

GENeco PR manager Ian Drury told me in a phone interview that the company was “keen to come up with an eye-catching design that would turn heads,” noting that while one side of the bus is plastered with images of people on the toilet, the other side features cartoon drawings of people dumping food waste into composting bins. And the front and back of the bus are plastered with daisies. 

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The reverse side of the bus shows people disposing of food waste, another source of the biomethane that powers the bus.

Courtesy of GENeco

Drury said that the company hadn’t received any complaints about the design, which they consider a success. “The reaction from the public has been excellent,” he said. “People like the fun design, and it has certainly started debate about how powering buses in this way could be the future for public transport.”

Kristin Hohenadel's writing on design has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Fast Company, Vogue, Elle Decor, Lonny, and Apartment Therapy.