Billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates has unveiled a futuristic toilet that doesn’t need water or sewers and uses chemicals to turn human waste into fertilizer. The mega-rich philanthropist is known for this potty-minded obsession with all things lavatorial, having famously swigged ‘poo water’ to prove sewage could be turned into drinkable H2O. The toilet is about to go on sale and is the brainchild of research projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s biggest private philanthropy organisation. When Gates announced the new loo on Twitter, he admitted he ‘loved’ discussing toilets.
Which might sound strange until you hear that poor sanitation kills half a million children under the age of five annually and costs the globe over $200 billion a year in healthcare costs and lost income, according to the foundation. There are multiple designs of the new toilet, but all work by separating liquid and solid waste. ‘The current toilet simply sends the waste away in the water, whereas these toilets don’t have the sewer,’ Gates said. ‘They take both the liquids and solids and do chemical work on it, including burning it in most cases.’ He compared the change from traditional toilets to waterless models as similar to development in computing around the time he founded Microsoft in the mid-1970s.
‘In the way that a personal computer is sort of self-contained, not a gigantic thing, we can do this chemical processing at the household level,’ he said. Gates’ foundation has committed roughly $200 million to the toilet project and expects to spend the same amount again before the toilets are viable for wide-scale distribution. ‘This year the volume of toilets will literally be in the 100s while people are still kicking tyres (testing them),’ Gates said. During a speech at the Beijing event, Gates held up a clear jar of human faeces to illustrate the importance of improving sanitation.
‘It’s a good reminder that in (the jar) there could be 200 trillion rotavirus cells, 20 billion Shigella bacteria, and 100,000 parasitic worm eggs.’ It is the first time Gates’ foundation has addressed an event in China, where President Xi Jinping is promoting a three-year ‘toilet revolution’ to build or upgrade 64,000 public toilets by 2020 to help boost tourism and economic growth. Gates said the next step for the project is to pitch the concept to manufacturers, saying he expects the market for the toilets to be over $6 billion by 2030.