Bill Gates Bets Millions That These Futuristic Toilets Will Change the World, Environment

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The Nano Membrane Toilet displayed at the Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing.(Mark Schiefelbein/AP)
  • Bill Gates’ foundation recently presented 20 reinvented toilet designs that use no water or sewage.
  • The foundation hopes the designs will help the 2 billion people without access to clean sanitation systems and clean up the environment.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ foundation recently hosted an event displaying 20 futuristic toilets that need no connection to water or sewage systems and turn human waste into fertilizer, a technological advancement Gates is hailing as one of the “most significant advances in sanitation in nearly 200 years.”

The toilets could help prevent diseases for the more than 2 billion people that don’t have access to clean sanitation systems and reduce the environmental impact of human waste. 

Gates held the presentation at the appropriately named “Reinvented Toilet Expo” in Beijing, China, this week, using a sealed jar of human feces as a prop to show that just a small amount of human waste could contain “as many as 200 trillion rotavirus…20 billion Shigella bacteria, and 100,000 parasitic worm eggs,” the BBC reported.

Around the world, more than 2.3 billion people still don’t have access to basic sanitation facilities and the untreated waste from millions ends up in the environment, including bodies of water, according to the World Health Organization. Lack of facilities can cause diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and dysentery, which kill hundreds of thousands of people each year.

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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested over $200 million in research to improve sanitation technologies since 2011 and announced they plan to contribute another $200 million to continued research and development, according to a press release from the expo.

The 20 reinvented toilets they showcased at the event were all created to destroy harmful bacteria and prevent disease by separating liquid and solid waste all without being connected to water supply or sewer systems, the foundation states.

“It’s no longer a question of if we can reinvent the toilet and other sanitation systems,” said Gates. “It’s a question of how quickly this new category of off-grid solutions will scale.”

Gates went further, saying the inventions being displayed at the showcase were the “most significant advances in sanitation in nearly 200 years”.

One of the designs receiving the most recognition from the expo is the Nano Membrane Toilet — a design Gates’ foundation has backed since 2012, when they invested over $700,000 to its developers at Cranfield University in England. In 2016, the foundation received a second grant of nearly $5 million. The toilet is currently being tested in Ghana.

Here’s how the toilet works: After the user is done, the seat’s hinge turns a set of gears when the seat is put down, opening the bottom of the bowl and squeegeeing it. Think of that as the flush.

With the waste below the tank, an Archimedes screw acts as a pump, bringing the solid waste to the top where it’s turned into dry pellets and dropped into a combustion chamber. An ash-like material can then be emptied and thrown away once a week.

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Urine is cleaned and purified before being deposited in a tank below the footstep on the front of the toilet. The Nano Membrane website states that the cleaned liquid can be used for outdoor irrigation and cleaning.

The foundation’s hope is that the reinvented toilet will first be used in places like schools and apartment buildings until their cost eventually declines to a point where they can be affordable in households.

For a look at all the futuristic toilet concepts click here.