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  (Source: Warner Bros Pictures)

Bill Gates at the "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge"  (Source:
An event called the "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge" is in Seattle this week, where Gates awarded prizes to teams that created new toilet designs

Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates wants to change current toilet designs around the world in order to not only increase efficiency, but also provide alternatives to poor nations without access to water.
Gates recently awarded prizes to three teams at an event in Seattle, Washington called "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge." Scientists, inventors, designers and students enrolled in the challenge, which asked that they create a toilet design that strays from the traditional flush toilet. 
Here's the problem with flush toilets: in the developed world, these toilets use 10 times more than our required daily amount of drinking water. A new, efficient toilet is needed in order to conserve our fresh water so that it can be used for more important reasons.
In developing countries, most people don't even have access to a flush toilet because the system is either too expensive or they do not have access to water, sewage treatment systems or electricity. In fact, there are 2.5 billion people around the globe that do not have a method for safe sanitation, and 1 billion of those still relieve themselves out in the open outdoors. Another billion use pit latrines. 
This is problematic for a couple of reasons, but the most important being health. People openly defecating in public where the waste is left can lead to the spread of disease. Gates said that diarrheal diseases caused by food and water contaminated by fecal matter kills 1.5 million children annually. 
Safety is another issue -- especially for women. Those who have to urinate or defecate out in the open (especially at night) are at risk for assault. 
Human dignity is a huge factor in the need for new toilet designs, too. No human being in developed countries could likely see themselves having to drop their pants outdoors and use the bathroom in front of everyone (this assumption excludes those drunken parties you attended in college). The developed world is used to having closed, individual bathrooms -- and developing countries deserve the same. 
This is where the "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge" comes into play. Gates gave three teams prizes for coming up with novel ideas. The first place team hails from the California Institute of Technology in the U.S., and developed a solar-powered toilet that creates electricity and hydrogen. The second place team, from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom, created a toilet that generates clean water, minerals and biological charcoal. The third place team, from the University of Toronto in Canada, made a toilet that cleans feces and urine while recovering clean water and other resources. 
The "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge" is being held this week. 

Source: The Gates Notes

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Seriously though
By RufusM on 8/15/2012 1:46:11 PM , Rating: 3
This is a difficult problem since you need some kind of lubricant and expensive infrastructure to speed the waste away and process it; water in most cases. If water is not available you're stuck with local storage of the waste which causes disease and such.

Bacterial digesters are one possible solution to convert the waste into energy, but human waste is around 80% digested already so there's not a lot of energy to be gained from it. Plus you need more infrastructure to handle the methane or electricity, if the methane is converted to electricity.

I commend Gates for doing some work here because there are significant cost savings to be had if this problem is cracked. :)

RE: Seriously though
By rudolphna on 8/15/2012 1:49:15 PM , Rating: 2

RE: Seriously though
By Reclaimer77 on 8/15/2012 1:52:26 PM , Rating: 3
Seems like putting the cart before the horse. The challenge should be coming up with more affordable ways for developing nations to implement sewage infrastructure or septic systems. The toilet isn't the problem, not having infrastructure to connect TO the toilets is the problem.

A toilet that will no doubt cost more than some of these people make in a year...well I'm not seeing how this is going to help them all that much.

Now maybe someone will come up with some amazing out-of-the box solution for a self-contained revolutionary toilet, we'll have to see.

RE: Seriously though
By theapparition on 8/15/2012 2:21:51 PM , Rating: 3

Infrastructure is key, along with a massive shift in cultural ideology.

Pooping in private isn't going to solve any of their problems. How about instead of killing one another, fighting over power and racism/religious factions, they work to establish a working clean water infrastructure. From there, sewage and power.

That's what needs to happen, not some random hi-tech toilets. Jebezzus, we could just send them some porta-potties and gain 1000% improvement. This is not where the money from Bill and Melissa's organization should be going towards.

RE: Seriously though
By Ammohunt on 8/15/2012 2:46:36 PM , Rating: 4
I propose we start the "1 Toilet Per Child" to speak

RE: Seriously though
By spamreader1 on 8/15/2012 4:29:26 PM , Rating: 3
Toilet's for Tots

RE: Seriously though
By jbwhite99 on 8/15/2012 4:40:48 PM , Rating: 5
How about one movement per child?

RE: Seriously though
By Belard on 8/16/2012 3:39:59 AM , Rating: 5
Butt Plug.

No water, no waste, no pollution everywhere.
Easy and cheap to make.

RE: Seriously though
By nedsand on 8/15/2012 2:56:56 PM , Rating: 3
This is one part of a larger $40 million dollar project created to tackle water, sanitation and hygiene issues.

RE: Seriously though
By Samus on 8/15/2012 4:08:07 PM , Rating: 2
IF you have a toilet that sterilizes and breaks down waste, then you don't need any infrastructure to move the waste to a safe location.

I think these target applications they are coming up with are targeted toward port-a-potties though.

RE: Seriously though
By Ringold on 8/15/2012 5:08:17 PM , Rating: 2
they work to establish a working clean water infrastructure. From there, sewage and power.

Interestingly enough, the World Bank did research a couple years ago showing that electrification provided the quickest path to better health, education, etc. Power allowed investment and business growth, which then provided the revenue and incentive to build out the rest of the infrastructure. Electricity was shown to be the most important cornerstone to economic development; which apparently surprised a lot of economists at the time, but not me. I never bought in to the lefty propaganda on life being all about having ten PhD's and organic yogurt.

RE: Seriously though
By theapparition on 8/16/2012 9:56:45 AM , Rating: 2
That's an interesting study. If true, then I'd fully support it (not that my support means anything, but I digress).

RE: Seriously though
By TSS on 8/15/2012 5:18:13 PM , Rating: 2

This is not the solution, but exactly the problem. Good for you to decide where bill and melinda's money should go! I'm sure they appreciate your support.

You do realise that nearly 100% of all current infrastructure investments in the entire african continent come from China? The africans have embraced their money quite quickly over the past 5-6 years. Do you know why? Because the chinese *only* want to trade.

They couldn't care any less how the africans live their life. They wanna go around killing eachother all day, that's just fine to the chinese, as long as they don't mess up their property. They'll even trade them the bullets, machetes, whatever they need, no questions asked. The only complaint i've heard from africans is the chinese are even flooding their markets with even cheaper stuff then the africans can make. But atleast they don't meddle in their affairs. They don't try to put anybody into power, they just work with whoever's there at the time. And it's this that'll eventually develop the african continent just like the chinese have developed without caring what we thought of them.

It is indeed a shift in cultural ideology that needs to happen, but it's not africa that needs it.

RE: Seriously though
By Bad-Karma on 8/16/2012 9:31:39 AM , Rating: 2
Because the chinese *only* want to trade.

Nievity, thy name is TSS.

RE: Seriously though
By mevans336 on 8/16/2012 12:48:20 AM , Rating: 2
Right, because he couldn't possibly have looked at the most obvious solution first. Idiot.

RE: Seriously though
By Jeffk464 on 8/15/2012 2:54:53 PM , Rating: 1
Wow, this guy just can't retire.

RE: Seriously though
By Mitch101 on 8/15/2012 3:07:17 PM , Rating: 3
He never really did when he left Microsoft he has been full time for the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Bill Gates the evil overlord is giving away almost all of his wealth to charity and helping others.

Bill and Melinda Gates: The $60 Billion Donation

RE: Seriously though
By Jeffk464 on 8/15/12, Rating: -1
RE: Seriously though
By inperfectdarkness on 8/15/2012 3:42:39 PM , Rating: 3
I don't want my toilet using less water. I've used these european toilets where there is no water in the bowl. Nothing is more vile than taking a massive dump without the sanctity of a layer of water that will semi-mask the odor. No thanks, I'll keep my conventional WC.

RE: Seriously though
By Paj on 8/16/2012 7:39:08 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, but then you dont get splashback!

RE: Seriously though
By MozeeToby on 8/15/2012 4:13:53 PM , Rating: 3
Human waste can be quite effectively composted without or with minimal water. Done correctly there is no odor, no risk of disease, and no need to haul it off to a treatment center. It's not what I would call a pleasant solution, but there are many areas of the world where sanitation plus free fertilizer are seen as a win win.

RE: Seriously though
By Souka on 8/15/2012 5:43:39 PM , Rating: 2
Well recently I saw a new plastic bottle demonstated for holding ketchup. Just tip the bottle and nothing stuck to it. Same tech is also availble for a toliet plunger...

Now take that tech and coat the first 10ft from the toliet to the main sewer line on a house... water need would greatly be reduced.

RE: Seriously though
By Reclaimer77 on 8/15/2012 8:45:06 PM , Rating: 2
Ketchup bottles are a one-time use though. You use up the ketchup and throw the bottle away.

Not saying your idea isn't good. But would this coating hold up under prolonged typical use scenario?

RE: Seriously though
By Lugaidster on 8/16/2012 3:30:19 AM , Rating: 2
It could all be a massive plan to have us eat that ketchup so that we lubricate the toilet when we take a dump. See? A self-lubricating water-reducing toilet system that keeps us all fat and happy.

Now back to reality :P

RE: Seriously though
By CoreEngine on 8/16/2012 6:48:19 AM , Rating: 2
No need to research.

Iranian toilets are most efficient.

Very low water consumption.
Most clean (Cleaning is not required whenever you want to use).
bladder friendly !
and more...

try it.!

RE: Seriously though
By Lanek2 on 8/18/2012 8:17:26 AM , Rating: 2

By Brandon Hill on 8/15/2012 1:57:01 PM , Rating: 5
Three seashells. BOOM, done.

By borismkv on 8/15/2012 2:04:58 PM , Rating: 2
How do those work, anyway?

By Reclaimer77 on 8/15/2012 2:08:13 PM , Rating: 2
lol +6

By theapparition on 8/15/2012 2:17:45 PM , Rating: 2
They don't know how to use the three seashells. :)

By Brandon Hill on 8/15/2012 2:19:17 PM , Rating: 3
DEFINITELY NSFW! You have been warned!

Thankfully, in a recent interview, Stallone says one of the writers explained to him the general gist of how one was supposed to use the three seashells when taking a dump. With this newfound knowledge, myself and PoX have created this handy illustrated instructional guide which clearly explains how to use the three seashells. Yes indeed, all of your questions are finally about to be answered!

By Azethoth on 8/21/2012 4:34:50 AM , Rating: 2
Sadly the seashells are a reference to Hyperion by Dan Simmons. The node on the water world had baffling sea shells in the bathroom and no TP.

By using the shells the Stallone way you may not be getting the full benefit from this future tech.

By Apone on 8/15/2012 3:08:06 PM , Rating: 2
Brandon, I didn't even finish reading the headline before doing a CTRL + F with "seashell" and quickly finding your post. Ha ha! Love the 3 seashells reference from Demolition Man!

i don't get this
By Ammohunt on 8/15/2012 1:51:17 PM , Rating: 2
People taking a dump in the street vs providing an outhouse design(which worked for thousands of years by the way) is a problem with toilet design? How about addressing the "defecate wherever i feel like it" problem with these cultures and provide public outhouses.

In the middle east an other non western countries they use what i call squat holes( a ceramic hole with two footpads next to it) it is the most sanitary since no part of your body comes in contact with the toilet and uses little water.

RE: i don't get this
By Dr of crap on 8/15/2012 2:23:52 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed - if these places can't build their own out houses - too freaking bad.

We have been digging holes and building out houses for many many years, but now we NEED a toilet?? You've heard of two holer houses, just put up a wall inbetween!

If it's ok with the society for anyone to crap on the side of the road out in public, then keep you nose out of it?

RE: i don't get this
By Brandon Hill on 8/15/2012 2:24:27 PM , Rating: 3
And you should know, you're a Fecal Doctor ;)

RE: i don't get this
By Azethoth on 8/21/2012 4:44:16 AM , Rating: 2
Ah yes, for further study I present the squat-toilet & shower combo with dark blue hand / butt cleaning system.

RE: i don't get this
By Ammohunt on 8/15/2012 2:43:03 PM , Rating: 2
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

This is my favorite part of the article..ever seen some the older military latrines? just rows of toilets; privacy what the hell is that?

RE: i don't get this
By DennisB on 8/15/2012 3:52:18 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is population growth and poisoning.
Without infrastructure there's no way to clean up things.
And over time lead poisoning will occur.

By Egglick on 8/15/2012 3:52:19 PM , Rating: 3
I agree with some of the others that this whole idea is misguided. Before you can redesign the toilet, you need to know what sort of infrastructure you're dealing with. The toilet itself isn't really the issue, because you can just use simple Squat Toilets and be done with that aspect. The problem is how you handle the waste after it has accumulated.

So they should really be focusing on the most inexpensive and easy method of treating and disposing of waste. The toilet isn't the problem.

RE: Misguided.
By lyeoh on 8/15/2012 9:41:46 PM , Rating: 2
Actually there are a lot of problems with washrooms and toilets that are often solved poorly even in modern contexts.

For example once you've done shitting, how do you clean yourself up properly and easily without contaminating the surfaces of the toilet, yourself/your clothes, taps, door handles/locks, soap dispenser etc. Then there's the drying off bit.

There's some progress with some toilets having "no touch" soap dispensers and taps, and main entrances that don't have doors so you don't recontaminate your hands just to get out. But still, how do you clean yourself up properly before pulling up your trousers etc? If you're already clean enough before that, then you don't need to use the soap and taps outside right? ;)

Don't get me wrong, our immune systems are likely to take care of stuff in most cases. Just pointing out that many things are still crappier than they could be ;).

From some of the text of the article
By FITCamaro on 8/15/2012 4:53:43 PM , Rating: 3
Are we supposed to feel guilty for living in a country for having enclosed bathrooms now too?

By nedsand on 8/15/2012 5:05:37 PM , Rating: 2
No your supposed to feel shitty.

One of the best pics out here
By Meinolf on 8/16/2012 8:09:29 AM , Rating: 2
"Shitter's Full" love that line

RE: One of the best pics out here
By phorensic on 8/16/2012 2:06:41 PM , Rating: 2
I logged in just to +1 you =) One of the best movies of all time!

By Quadrillity on 8/15/2012 1:15:33 PM , Rating: 1
So... is this a shitty investment?

RE: so....
By Gondor on 8/16/2012 2:27:13 AM , Rating: 2
No, Windows 8 / RT is. It's amazing how focused Gates is on fecal matter lately.

And I Thought Zune...
By Arsynic on 8/15/2012 1:27:05 PM , Rating: 2
...was Microsoft flushing money down the toilet.

By retrospooty on 8/15/2012 1:35:46 PM , Rating: 2
His true calling has a purpose. ;)

Fecal matter link
By FaceMaster on 8/15/2012 1:47:27 PM , Rating: 2
I couldn't resist the urge to click on it. And I wasn't disappointed.

By gixser on 8/15/2012 2:28:59 PM , Rating: 2
A recently aired BBC documenatry addresses many of the comments already made and demonstrated a "possible" future toilet vaporizing crap using plasma. I guess you really don't wanna flush while sitting down on that thing but the show was entertaining.

Show details:

Backpack much?
By danjw1 on 8/15/2012 2:42:31 PM , Rating: 2
"Human dignity is a huge factor in the need for new toilet designs, too. No human being in developed countries could likely see themselves having to drop their pants outdoors and use the bathroom in front of everyone (this assumption excludes those drunken parties you attended in college). The developed world is used to having closed, individual bathrooms -- and developing countries deserve the same."

Never done any backpacking, have you? Though usually you get away from camp for that.

By kfonda on 8/15/2012 4:11:01 PM , Rating: 2
For all the people that say the idea is mus-guided, I don't think Bill Gates is an idiot. I'm fairly sure he knows what he is doing. If the toilet can handle all the treatment and processing locally, then there would be no need for costly infrastructure to be built.

P.S. - The first picture on this post may be one of the funniest movie scenes of all time.

More puns...
By rountad on 8/15/2012 5:36:19 PM , Rating: 2
No Child Left with a dirty Behind

By rountad on 8/15/2012 5:38:30 PM , Rating: 2
And are you going to go install these systems when designed, Tiffany, because they deserve them?

Gobar Gas
By Integral9 on 8/16/2012 9:36:37 AM , Rating: 2
This is the latest Po-Folks toilet that I know of. Seems like a good solution to me. Doesn't require much water either.

Give them condoms instead
By johnsmith9875 on 8/17/2012 12:51:30 AM , Rating: 2
Obviously the populations there are too high to sustain them, they need to learn to stop having 10 babies per mother.

A "stop" lever
By gherrick on 8/20/2012 6:22:14 AM , Rating: 2
There are low-tech ways to address the issue of flush water wastage, at least in the developed world, where we are responsible for most of the world's woes.

Here in Europe, many toilet tanks have a flush lever which allows one to cut off the flush when sufficient water has been used to do the job, i.e., to flush urine requires much less water than to flush feces.

I was taught, "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down."

Also, many men refuse to use a urinal, but opt for a conventional toilet in a stall, which usually lacks an efficient flush mechanism.

By DigitalFreak on 8/15/2012 3:27:39 PM , Rating: 1
Gates said that diarrheal diseases caused by food and water contaminated by fecal matter kills 1.5 million children annually.

Guess they've never heard the phrase Don't shit where you eat.

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer
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