Tag Archives: Reinventing the Toilet

Time to Get Our Sh*t Together

South Africa toilet. Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

“It’s time to get our sh*t together and focus on sanitation”, is the message that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is bringing to the World Water Forum  Marseilles.

The lack of progress on sanitation, which was reconfirmed by the 2012 JMP Update, is what originally fueled the foundation’s call to action to “reinvent the toilet.” To us, reinventing the toilet is not just about science and technology, it’s about a whole new approach to working with poor communities in urban and rural areas of the developing world to create affordable, sustainable, and aspirational sanitation solutions.

The Gates Foundation has turned the usual distribution of funding and advocacy for WASH programmes on its head by committing 90% of its WASH funding to sanitation, write staff members Frank Rijsberman and Sara Rogge.

The Foundation is focussing on the following components to achieve its long term vision of providing sustainable sanitation services for all:

  • Explore and Implement Sanitation without Sewers
  • End Open Defecation
  • Provide Sustainable Services at Scale
  • Promote Sanitation as a Business
  • Cooperate and Partner

In 2011, the Gates Foundation committed US$ 120 million in new commitments, grants and contracts, 90% of which was focused on sanitation, including:

  • US$ 79 million for Sanitation Science and Technology, including grants to 8 universities to develop prototypes of affordable toilets that don’t need to be connected to sewers
  • US$ 47 million for Delivery Models at Scale by implementing demand-led sanitation programmes, which aim to end open defecation for 30 million people by 2015
  • US$ 18 million for Policy & Advocacy grants that support sanitation policy development and advocacy campaigns

Read the full details of Gates Foundation message for the World Water Forum here

Use the following links to read more about the Gates Foundations’s WASH  strategy and awarded grants

Source: Frank Rijsberman and Sara Rogge, Impatient Optimists, 12 Mar 2012

Scientific American – Wasting Away: Can a Gates Foundation-Funded Toilet-Design Initiative End a Foul Practice?

Wasting Away: Can a Gates Foundation-Funded Toilet-Design Initiative End a Foul Practice in the Developing World?

A low-tech plumbing challenge searches for the “iPad of commodes”

By Jim Nash | Scientific American, Feb 21, 2012

ACCEPTING THE CHALLENGE: According to UNICEF, 2.6 billion people, almost entirely in the developing world, use bucket, public or open (uncovered) latrines, if they use latrines at all. Image: Courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Chances are that if you are reading this, you have a private flush toilet a few steps from your bed. Your commode is more reliable than your mobile connection, and likely will outlast all of your home appliances. Yet huge tracts of the developing world have yet to see so much as a latrine, a situation that facilitates the spread of debilitating or even deadly diarrheal diseases.

Advocates for universal access to and use of basic personal sanitation hope their efforts will get a big boost in August, when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation present several hygienic innovations developed through its Reinventing the Toilet Challenge. Technology alone might help with failing sewers in industrialized countries, but for poor nations, where changing social norms is more important, the Gates Foundation is a powerful ally. The foundation’s involvement could do for sanitation what it has accomplished in the battle to eradicate malaria—raise the visibility of a fundamental health care crisis and encourage new efforts to end it.

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NPR – Building a Better Toilet

Nov. 18, 2011 – Building a Better Toilet

Toilets, as most of us know them, haven’t changed much since the 1800s—they use a lot of water, and require an infrastructure that many communities can’t afford. Ira Flatow and guests look at the problem of access to sanitation, and how engineers are making toilets better.


This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I’m Ira Flatow. Tomorrow is World Toilet Day, and if you have a toilet, that’s a cause for celebration, because more than a third of the world’s population does not. For 2.6 billion people, going to the bathroom is, well, there is no bathroom to go to. People don’t have access to the sanitation and sewer systems that we take for granted here. Without a place to go, people defecate into ditches, waste gets dumped into waterways and diseases spread.

The sponsors of World Toilet Day are trying to change that by bringing attention to the problem. And one sponsor, the Gates Foundation, is challenging engineers to build a better toilet, giving them money to do it. It’s called the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Frank Rijsberman is director of water sanitation and hygiene at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. Dr. Rijsberman is here with us. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

FRANK RIJSBERMAN: Thank you. Good morning, Ira.

FLATOW: Good afternoon to you. Rose George is author of “The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World Of Human Waste And Why It Matters.” She joins us from the BBC in Leeds. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

ROSE GEORGE: Thank you.

FLATOW: Dr. Jim McHale is vice president of engineering at American Standard Brands in Piscataway, New Jersey. You know they make all those bathroom fixtures, including that famous toilet that seems to swallow everything up on YouTube. Thank you for being with us today, Jim.

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Why We Need to Reinvent the Toilet

Oct. 6, 2011 – Frank Rijsberman, Gates Foundation: Why We Need to Reinvent the Toilet

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I thank the organizers for giving me this opportunity to talk to you about our still newish water, sanitation and hygiene strategy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. You are probably aware that the foundation’s leadership approved a sanitation-focused approach to our grant making in 2009. In July, we formally launched this strategy at AfricaSan3 in Kigali, Rwanda, under a call to action to “Reinvent the Toilet.”

Our announcement was primarily focused on general audiences, and it worked out well. Our YouTube video generated more than 160,000 views. I know that’s small compared to something that really goes viral. Susan Boyle’s performance on “Britain’s Got Talent,” for example, generated 76 million views, probably including a good number of you here in the audience. But 160,000 set a new record for foundation videos, and it was picked up by dozens of influential social media outlets, including Mashable.

We were also very pleased by media pick-up from CNN, The New York Times, The Economist, and a raft of social media bloggers. According to our communications team, the launch announcement generated the most media coverage of any single announcement made by our Global Development program in recent years. It also prompted hundreds of emails from people around the world wanting to know more, and asking how they could help.

The popular interest and excitement produced by our July launch shows that we can get general audiences interested in toilets. But we also know that our messages and materials – and if you missed them, you can still find them on our website – probably didn’t satisfy hardcore water and sanitation enthusiasts like you. So today I would like to share more details on what we are aiming to achieve and planning to support. I’ll also try to answer some of the key questions that we have heard since our launch.

For this expert audience, I will skip the discussion of the sanitation crisis that has led us to adopt a sanitation-focused strategy. But one question that we have been asked whether we are still interested in water. And we have been asked whether the new sanitation focus really has changed what we fund. We have estimated that, through 2009, 54% of our funding went to water and the remaining 46% to sanitation and hygiene. Over the past two years, 90% of our funding has been invested in sanitation and the remaining 10% in water and hygiene.

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UK: Loughborough experts to ‘reinvent the toilet’ in global project

A multi-disciplinary team from the Water Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) at Loughborough University led by Professor M.Sohail has won a £250,000 (US$ 408,000) grant in an international competition to “re-invent the toilet” organised by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In the project’s first phase, the team will validate certain key principles to design a toilet, which will recover energy and other valuable resources from human excreta without disposing any hazardous waste that could threaten human and environmental health.

Faeces will be transformed into a highly energetic combustible through a process combining hydrothermal carbonisation followed by combustion. The process will be powered by heat generated during the combustion phase of faeces processing.

The likely results are converting human waste into useful material for energy generation or soil conditioning, including water for hand-washing and other ablutions.

The toilet must be able to work in both single-family and community environments and should cost just pennies a day per person to run.

The WEDC team will present the results of their work to teh Gates Foundation at meeting in August 2012.

Source: Loughborough University, 20 Jul 2011

The Economist – cholera and the super loo

July 30, 2011 – Solving the sanitation problem is within reach, and it could avoid many deaths

“CHOLERA most forcibly teaches us our mutual connection. Nothing shows more powerfully the duty of every man to look after the needs of others.” So said Titus Salt, a Victorian wool baron who worked to put an end to cholera in Yorkshire. It was cholera, as much as the great stink, which led London’s masters to build vast sewers, install toilets, and promote hygiene. Cholera struck fear into 19th-century cities, sweeping away the rich along with the poor. America’s President James K. Polk died of the disease after a visit to New Orleans. His successor, Zachary Taylor, may also have succumbed.

Photo from the Economist

The liquid diarrhoea and vomit jetted out by a body infected by the bacterium Vib rio choleraeis a reminder, in extreme form, of the danger lurking in the excrement which flows from every human settlement, creating a problem few want to go near. Not all human waste has the deadly bacterium; but all of it is dangerous and better disposal of faeces would go a huge way to stopping cholera and other deadly intestinal diseases.

And with the urban population in poor countries soaring, cholera is still a pressing concern. In Haiti the health ministry recently announced that 5,800 people had died of cholera since October last year. Another 250,000 had recovered, often after having lost work or schooling. Those numbers do not include Haitians believed to have died, helpless, in remote places.

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UNESCO-IHE and partners get US$ 8 million Gates grant for urban sanitation education and research

UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education and partners have been awarded a US$ 8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will be used for postgraduate sanitation education and research with a focus on solutions for the urban poor in sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia. This 5-year capacity building and research project was developed by Prof. Damir Brdjanovic, Professor of Sanitary Engineering at UNESCO-IHE and his team.

“This is probably the largest research and postgraduate education project targeting sanitation for the urban poor ever conducted,” Prof. Brdjanovic said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced this grant when they unveiled their new sanitation strategy at the 2011 AfricaSan 3 conference in Kigali, Rwanda on 19 July 2011.

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UN expert hails Bill Gates drive to reinvent the toilet, but warns hardware solutions alone are not enough

Catarina de Albuquerque

UN Special Rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque welcomed the multimillion dollar grant offered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aimed at “reinventing the toilet” through new technology to save water and transform human waste into energy and fertiliser. However, she warned “the great challenge ahead is making sure that people actually use the new hardware solutions.”

“New technology alone is not enough to overcome the sanitation and water crisis we face,” said the expert on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. “Investments in software solutions, like awareness rising among the people on the vital importance of sanitation, are crucial to make sure the hardware solutions are actually used, as I have witnessed in some of the countries I have visited.”

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Reinvent the Toilet – Gates Foundation promo video

See the cool promo video to mark the Gates Foundation new sanitation strategy. It has already been viewed over 7,000 times since its release on 18 July 2011.

Reinventing the toilet: Gates Foundation launches new sanitation strategy and grants

Video still from "Reinventing the Toilet".

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced the launch of their new sanitation strategy and US$ 42 million in new sanitation grants at the 2011 AfricaSan 3 conference in Kigali, Rwanda on 19 July 2011.

“No innovation in the past 200 years has done more to save lives and improve health than the sanitation revolution triggered by invention of the toilet”, said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the foundation’s Global Development Program. “But it did not go far enough. It only reached one-third of the world. What we need are new approaches. New ideas. In short, we need to reinvent the toilet”.

The new sanitation grants include US$ 3 million for eight university winners of the Reinventing the Toilet Challenge, US$ 8.5 million for USAID’s WASH for Life initiative, US$ 12 million to the African Water Facility for sanitation pilot projects, US$ 10 million to the Water Services Trust Fund and German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) for a project in Kenya and US$ 8 million to the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education.

The foundation and its partners are working to develop new tools and technologies that address every aspect of sanitation—from the development of waterless, hygienic toilets that do not rely on sewer connections to pit emptying to waste processing and recycling. Many of the solutions being developed involve cutting-edge technology that could turn human waste into fuel to power local communities, fertilizer to improve crops, or even safe drinking water.

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