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.
The diseases caused by contaminated water kill more than 500,000 children under five every year. Those who survive are often too sick to go to school. It’s no exaggeration to say that poor sanitation holds back whole communities and entire nations.
If you live in a level 3 or 4 country, you can thank your sewer system for keeping you safe. Sewers have historically been the best way to make sure waste isn’t releasing harmful pathogens into the environment.
But what if you didn’t need a sewer to keep people safe? What if your toilet could dispose of waste all on its own?
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested a lot of money to develop a pipeline of next-generation sanitation solutions.
In 2011, it had launched the Reinvent the Toilet challenge. Many of the solutions created for that challenge are now ready to license. A remarkable cohort of engineers, scientists, companies, and universities around the world has done the hard work of getting a safe, off-grid sanitation market ready for take-off. Their hard work is now one step closer to being used by real people around the world.
Several run on solar power, so they can operate off-grid.
Others generate their own power, like the Cranfield nanomembrane toilet. Opening or closing its lid moves a screw that separates liquids from solids. A gasifier converts the solids into ash and heat that is used to operate the toilet.
A big theme for next-gen toilets is the ability to turn waste into something useful.
The Ecosan extracts clean water, which is safe to use for hand-washing. The water created by Duke University’s neighborhood treatment system can be used to flush toilets or supplement fertilizer.
The University of South Florida’s New Generator even collects methane gas for cooking or heating.
The toilet hasn’t really changed in more than a century. If you could go back in time to the mid-1800s, you’d find flush toilets that work basically the same as the toilet in your home. And if you live somewhere with pit latrines, toilet design has stayed the same for even longer.
The toilets on display in Beijing, China this week at the ‘Reinvented Toilet Expo’ might one day replace a piece of technology that’s been with us for ages—and they could save millions of lives in the process.
Reference- gatesfoundation.org, BBC, Geekwire
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