I just traveled halfway around the world to look at a toilet.
If you’re a long-time reader of TGN, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are few things I love talking about more. Sanitation is one of the most important issues we work on. I even drank water made from human feces a couple years ago.
That’s why I’m so excited to visit Beijing, China this week for the Reinvented Toilet Expo, where some of the most high-tech toilets in the world will be on display.
The toilets at the expo aren’t just fascinating gadgets—they have the potential to save millions of lives. More than half of the world’s population uses unsafe sanitation facilities. Even in places where people have access to toilets or pit latrines, their waste isn’t disposed of safely. The pathogens from the waste find their way into the local water supply and makes people sick.
Milestone reached – 50 grants showcased on online discussion forum as part of sanitation project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation | Source: SEI News, July 5, 2013 |
Photo: Lab reactor for biogas production using low cost nanoparticles (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona).
Sanitation experts and enthusiasts around the world from the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance with the assistance of a team from Stockholm Environment Institute are openly discussing the outcomes and progress of the Gates Foundation’s sanitation science and technology grants. After 6 months of the project just over half of the 83 sanitation research grants made by the Foundation have been introduced and discussed on the SuSanA Discussion Forum. The Forum, hosted by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), has seen an increase in activity since the grant holders were invited to contribute information and participate in discussions organised into 5 thematic topics:
Resource recovery from excreta or faecal sludge
Processing technologies for excreta or faecal sludge
The HappyTap, a low-cost handwashing device for the Vietnamese market, is one of seven innovations to receive a grant from the WASH for Life Partnership. This US$ 17 million initiative is co-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV).
In 2010, with USAID support, the WaterSHED program teamed with the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) to develop and market a new handwashing device. The design came from IDEO.org, which itself has received a WASH for Life grant for Clean Kumasi, an digitally-supported approach to Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). Together with Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), IDEO.org is working to combat open defecation in Kumasi, Ghana using mobile phones and open-source mapping.
Examples of signs posted to prompt residents to flash Clean Kumasi. Photo: IDEO.org
BILL GATES’ NEXT GREAT INNOVATION: THE WATERLESS TOILET
Scientists working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are researching the many different ways human waste can be put to good use — such as powering electrical current with human excrement, or purifying urine into drinking water.
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft who has morphed into the world’s best-known philanthropist, wants to reinvent the toilet.
This next big idea for the good of mankind will now also be getting help from German taxpayers after Development Minister Dirk Niebel earmarked $10 million for a joint project with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Over the next five years, this project aims to provide 800,000 people in Kenya with access to sanitation facilities, and ensure clean drinking water for 200,000.
The goal is to find “innovative solutions” for sanitation in poor urban areas. Gates says it’s time to move on from the era of the classic toilet. He points out that, despite all the recent achievements, 40% of the world’s population, or some 2.5 billion people still live without proper means of flushing away excrement. But just giving them western-style toilets isn’t possible due to the world’s limited water resources.
A reusable self-decontaminating sanitary napkin, a children’s latrine training mat and a latrine using urine to flush instead of water are among 26 sanitation technology projects that have been awarded Gates Foundation grants. The topics of the wining projects range from hygiene, to household latrines, ecological sanitation, and wastewater/sludge treatment and reuse for fertiliser and energy.
On 28 April 2011, the Gates Foundation announced that 88 new global health projects received grants, each worth US$ 100,000, in the 6th round of the Grand Challenges Explorations initiative. Out of these 88 projects, there were 26 winners in the category “Create the Next Generation of Sanitation Technologies”. See the full list of 26 sanitation awards. Projects with demonstrated success in their initial phase of research have the opportunity to receive Phase II funding of up to US$ 1 million.
Bill Gates with Nirj Deva of the European Parliament's development committee
A British Member of the European Parliamentarian (MEP) wants the EU to spend more aid on innovative low-cost sanitation technologies. Nirj Deva MEP and Vice-Chairman of the European Parliament’s development committee launched his call after a meeting with philanthropist Bill Gates.
Following a question from Mr Deva regarding diarrhoeal diseases and possible solutions, Mr Gates told the committee that one of the greatest problems with clean water is contamination because traditional flushing toilet systems are expensive and unachievable.
Mr Gates pointed out that his foundation had funded projects to find innovative solutions to areas that are challenged either by water shortages or by flooding.
After praising Bill and Melinda Gates as “an outstanding example to philanthropists around the world” and the ability of private philanthropy to support innovative solutions, Mr. Deva added:
“One of the specific areas discussed was the high costs of sanitation and particularly flushing toilet facilities. It’s not a sexy subject but it is important that we invest in finding an innovative alternative. This is one area where the EU should improve its funding of innovation and I will seek to make this a priority for development funding in the future.”
US$ 100,000 grants are available for innovative non-networked sanitation technologies for the urban poor. “Create the Next Generation of Sanitation Technologies” is one of topics in Round 7 of Grand Challenges Explorations, a US$ 100 million grant initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Proposals are being accepted through May 19, 2011 at 11:30 a.m. Pacific Time.
The sanitation call focuses on four specific challenges:
Unhygienic and inadequate pit/tank emptying and extraction;
Recovery of energy from communities’ fecal sludge;
Inappropriate sanitation solutions for areas challenged by an abundance of water (e.g. communities that face seasonal flooding, high groundwater tables, riparian or tidal communities, etc.);
Easy to clean, attractive and affordable latrine pan / squatting platform technologies that enhance latrines
Proposed ideas must ultimately be designed for low income urban settings such as slums, informal and formal peri-urban settings, or dense rural settings in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia where demand for fecal sludge emptying and treatment are high.
Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.
Innovations can be new ideas or important improvements to existing solutions. Proposals must provide an underlying rationale, a testable hypothesis, and an associated plan for how the idea would be tested or validated.
A new initiative in South Africa is testing practical, community-scale ways to use urine as a fertiliser. The initiative is part of new project funded by the Gates Foundation.
Urine-diverting dry toilet in Umlazi, near Durban. Photo: Eawag
After installing about 90 000 urine-diversion toilets in home gardens, the port city of Durban now wants to install 20-litre (quart) containers on 500 of the toilets to capture urine, which can be turned into fertiliser.
Although a news item about the initiative claimed that the municipality would be paying households about around R30 (US$ 4.40) for a week’s supply of urine, the project coordinator Bastian Etter from Eawag, says that this is “an invention of a journalist of Agence France Presse (AFP) and not the strategy of the eThekwini Municipality”. “Neither the eThekwini Municipality nor our research team has set up a compensation scheme for collected urine”, Mr. Etter said in an e-mail.
Denver-based charity Water For People has received a US$ 5.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support their Sanitation as a Business program.
The four-year grant allows Water For People to test and scale-up sustainable sanitation services in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The program will combine profit incentives for small local companies and income generation programs for poor households and schools. The aim is bring about a shift from “unsustainable, subsidy-based sanitation programs toward sustainable, profitable sanitation services”. To bring about this shift, the program will employ the business principles of market research and segmentation as well as comprehensive community involvement and evaluation of results.
Water For People first began experimenting with Sanitation as a Business principles in Malawi, Africa in 2008. Since then, sanitation entrepreneurs have developed ongoing maintenance relationships with households to service over 1,000 latrines.