Will Bill Gates Build Toilet 2.0?

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Ever since Bill Gates ditched Microsoft for a life of philanthropy, he's applied his billions toward numerous worthy causes. In February 2011, for instance, Gates donated $100 million to a global polio vaccination program.

Well, here's more proof that Gates 2.0 is flush with good ideas: Time reports the retired tech magnate wants to "reinvent the toilet" for developing nations. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has entered into a joint venture with the German government to improve sanitation in poor urban areas. German taxpayers are contributing $10 million to the 5-year project, which strives to bring sanitation facilities to 800,000 people in Kenya, as well as clean drinking water to 200,000.

The Time article, originally published in Die Welt, includes a shocking statistic from UNICEF: 1.1 billion people worldwide don't have access to any kind of toilet. Nor do they have other hygienic ways to dispose of bodily wastes. These poor sanitary conditions pollute drinking water and can cause diarrhea.

Brave New Toilet?

Unfortunately, the tried-and-true water closet of developed countries is too wasteful for poorer regions with limited sources of water. The Gates Foundation's Water, Sanitation & Hygiene department is working on two alternatives.

One low-tech solution supports the building of pit latrines in toilet-free areas. A second project gives grants to scientists who come with creative ways to dispose of wastes.

Some clever ideas for the "ultimate toilet" include:

  • Create dry toilets that don't use water to flush, and which separate Number #2 from Number #1 to dry the solids
  • Using bacteria to turn waste into compost
  • Build toilets that turn urine into drinking water
  • Use human urine to make nitrogenous fertilizer in powder form

One of the biggest challenges may be to convince residents of rural and slum areas that, well, a toilet is a good thing to use.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci ) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com .

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