Bill Gates Looks to Flush Old Toilet Design, Develop More Efficient Models
August 15, 2012 12:40 PM
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(Source: Warner Bros Pictures)
Bill Gates at the "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge"
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
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.
The Gates Notes
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8/15/2012 3:52:19 PM
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
be focusing on the most inexpensive and easy method of treating and disposing of waste. The toilet isn't the problem.
8/15/2012 9:41:46 PM
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 ;).
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