August 22, 2012

Toilet Tech

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is offering a prize for innovative sanitation ideas.

Maggie: Bill Gates has billions to spend on just about anything. But he has decided to put his money to work helping to reinvent the toilet.

“And so we need to come up with something that has the same attractive properties as the flush toilet and yet can be made available to everyone on the planet. And so, we can think of that as a toilet for the 21st century.”

Maggie: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is offering up nearly $7,000,000 to encourage engineers to redesign the toilet.

“You’re looking at some toilet options.”

Maggie: It might not sound glamorous, but it is important.

“The flush toilet, as you and I know it, requires a massive amount of sewer structure, and immense amounts of water – two things increasingly hard to come by.”

Maggie: More than 2.5 billion people, or 40% of the world’s population, do not have access to sanitation. That is eight times the population of the United States.

This kind-of-silly video on the foundation’s website actually sends a very serious message.

“Imagine that: no reliable sanitary toilet. What would you do? Well, what you have to do. Use anything you can find.”

Maggie: Drinking and bathing water become contaminated and disease quickly spreads. Children often suffer the most: 1.5 million die worldwide each year from poor sanitation.

“About 2,750 children die every day as a result of poor sanitation – access to water, and poor hygiene – that can give you an idea of the scale. That’s about a hundred school buses every single day.”

Maggie: But fixing the problem isn’t easy. Many developing nations have no sewer infrastructure and limited access to water. So, a new, workable toilet design needs to be self-contained, cheap, and produce its own energy. A redesigned toilet could also put waste to good use. It can be used to produce fertilizer, and even create energy for electricity.

At the recent Gates Foundation Toilet Fair in Seattle, engineers came through with some unique solutions, like these toilets that break down human waste into fertilizer, even some models that use insects to help dispose of waste.

“The maggot is not a very choosy thing when it comes to what it wants to eat.”

Maggie: In the end, Bill Gates himself gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to the winning teams. He is hoping that by encouraging the development of their new designs, those reinvented toilets may end up saving millions of lives.

Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.


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