Piles of Problems Make the Gates Foundation Rethink our Most Useful Invention: The Toilet

Piles of Problems Make the Gates Foundation Rethink our Most Useful Invention: The Toilet

Everybody poops. This fact has proved to be a large problem in terms of maintaining the world's sanitation. Recently, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has turned it into something positive.

The foundation explains that 40 percent of the world's population has no contact with flush toilets. They are left to defecate in the open, bringing severe problems. For example, nearly 1.5 billion children die each year from diarrheal diseases.

On July 19, in Kigali, Rwanda, the foundation launched its new initiative to bring safe sanitation services to the world. Their plan begins with the toilet and $42 million to jump start the project. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the foundation’s Global Development Program, explains that the toilet has been the best invention for the world's sanitation. The only problem is that it's not accessible enough for everyone. "We need to reinvent the toilet," she says.

Partnering with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the initiative will support the United Nations’ 2015 Millennium Development Goals with the Sanitation For All project, aiming to reduce the amount of people living without basic sanitation by 50 percent. Together, they will find ways to build hygienic, water conserving, and human waste recycling toilets that can be built and sustained at a low cost. One such initiative is the Reinventing the Toilet Challenge, where Universities around the world race to develop a toilet without pipes, sewer connection or electricity for less than 5 cents a day.

With a reinvented toilet, the possibilities are endless. It will reduce exposure to disease and keep kids in school — ultimately boosting local economies with healthier workers and much lower health care costs. The human waste can become fertilizer and fuel for local communities, and even fresh drinking water. The Reinventing the Toilet Challenge is showing us that human waste really isn’t waste at all.

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