Microsoft's co-founder has organized a contest to design a toilet better equipped to prevent disease and death in developing countries.
Bill Gates is best known for launching Microsoft, make the personal computer ubiquitous and revolutionizing the world. But ever since he stepped down from his leadership role at Microsoft in January 2000, he's devoted himself to more philanthropic pursuits. One of his latest project, the "Reinvent The Toilet Fair" in Seattle, offered prizes to to designers and engineers with the best toilet prototypes.
"Toilets are extremely important for public health and, when you think of it, even human dignity," Gates told ABC.
The modern toilet certainly serves it's purpose well in developed countries, but Gates believes that it is need of drastic redesign in the developing world.
"The flush toilets we use in the wealthy world are irrelevant, impractical and impossible for 40 per cent of the global population, because they often don't have access to water, and sewers, electricity, and sewage treatment systems," he said.
Gates' "Toilet Fair' attracted 200 designers, inventors and people interested in developing safe and inexpensive systems of waste management. Last year at the first ever competition, first place went to the California Institute of Technology team, who designed a solar-powered toilet that can generate both hydrogen gas and electricity. Second prize went to Loughborough University in the UK, for their toilet which transforms human waste into charcoal, minerals and clean water. The University of Toronto placed third with a similar design that sanitizes human waste and filters out minerals and water for re-use.
Waste management is a real problem for over 2 billion people around the world, who don't have access to clean toilets. Furthermore, 1.5 million children die annually due to intestinal disease caused by the consumption of food or water containing fecal matter.
"Beyond a question of human dignity, this lack of access also endangers people's lives, creates an economic and a health burden for poor communities, and hurts the environment," Gates said.
He added that there's no downside to creating greener, more efficient toilets.
"Inventing new toilets is one of the most important things we can do to reduce child deaths and disease and improve people's lives," he said. "It is also something that can help wealthier countries conserve fresh water for other important purposes besides flushing."