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Merdacotta: ceramics made from cow dung

Using poo to make materials is a great way to make use of a product that normally goes to waste. Things like paper made out of elephant or sheep poo, linoleum and thread made from snail poop, and biodegradable flowerpots from cow dung already exist, but the Italian Shit Museum (Museo Della Merda) has taken it to the next level. At the Milan Design Week 2016 and the London Design Festival 2016, they presented their new ceramics, called Merdacotta, made from cow dung and clay.

The idea for Merdacotta was born when a farmer in northern Italy called Gianantonio Locatelli realised that his 2,500 cows were producing 100,000 kilograms (220,462 pounds) of manure. In collaboration with architect and designer Luca Cipelletti, he wanted to do something productive with the poo and started the Merdacotta project.

Merdacotta means literally means ‘baked shit’ in Italian, and consists for the most part of dried cow dung, mixed with Tuscan clay, straw and farm waste, in variable quantities, depending on what is made from the mixture. The dung goes through a process where the methane and urea, which is what makes poo smell, is extracted by huge industrial digesters, making the dung odourless. The methane is used to produce energy and heating for the museum. Urea is used in the production of plastic.

The result is a material similar to its cousin terracotta, though Merdacotta is lighter and more resilient to cold. The museum produces tiles, vases, flowerpots, benches, mugs and dishes, and even a toilet. The tableware is covered with a non-lead transparent glaze and baked, so they can be used to eat and drink from, just like normal terracotta. When the pieces are baked at 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Farhenheit), the straw burns up, giving the products gaps and imperfections, like the terracotta before it became industrialised.

Photos: Henrik Blomqvist

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