What do the toilets of tomorrow look like? While we may not pause to speculate how commodes will evolve in our lifetime, the future of sanitation and waste management weighs heavily on Bill Gates’ mind.
Earlier this week (Nov. 6), Gates delivered the keynote speech at the Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing. Armed with a jar of human excrement which he noted contained, “200 trillion rotavirus cells, 20 billion Shigella bacteria, and 100,000 parasitic worm eggs,” Gates unveiled a glimpse of johns of the future, thrones that operate sans water and do the dirty work of separating solid and liquid waste.
The Future of Toilets
This fixation on waste isn’t new for Gates. Back in 2011, sensing that there must be a better way to defecate than crouching over a few beams and into a dark hole, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation began awarding grants to universities and companies with one goal in mind: build a better toilet.
Many of the developmental strides made by those companies and researchers were on display at the Reinvented Toilet Expo, where a series of toilets brandished off hi-tech solar panel attachments and even operated without water and plumbing. Gates remarked that “[t]hey take both liquids and solids and do chemical work on it, including burning it in most cases.”
Over half of the world’s population enjoy no such luxuries of water and sewage systems. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation estimates that approximately 4.5 billion people around the world “either practice open defecation or use unsafe sanitation facilities and services.” The Foundation also informs that poor sanitation and waste systems cost over $223 billion a year in increased health fees and lost productivity and wages.
Gates is Hands-On
Going forward, Gates plans on matching the Foundation’s initial outlay of $200 million in a bid to make new toilet technology accessible and affordable for the most impoverished countries, which could prove challenging. During his speech, Gates conceded that the cost of manufacturing the toilets and driving costs down to a reasonable level is the next hurdle for the new toilets, with some toilets costing thousands to build.
How long will it be before Gates’ toilet revolution occurs? The philanthropist is confident that this is not a case of if, but when.
“It’s no longer a question of if we can do it,” said Gates. “It’s a question of how quickly this new category of off-grid solutions will scale.”