SEATTLE — In 2011, the Gates Foundation announced a “Reinvent the Toilet” Challenge with the intention of inspiring toilet innovations that will improving sanitation, bringing solutions and reforming sanitation problems to the estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean water and hygiene.
The Reinvent the Toilet Challenge has encouraged organizations around the globe to make a super-efficient, highly-effective low-cost toilet that can operate without connection to water, sewers or electrical lines.
Researchers at Cranfield University used funding from the foundation to develop a nano-toilet that works without water or electricity. The nano-toilet removes all the water from excrement and leaves a solid material that can function as fertilizer.
Sterile vapour created as a result of the process is collected for irrigation, cleaning, or even drinking. Better yet, the toilet uses a “gasifier” to turn solid waste into gas and energy, which a water and sanitation expert from the Cranfield University called, “enough surplus power to charge a mobile phone.”
While the nano-toilet may be a good solution to the Gates Foundation’s challenge, others have made impressive strides in toilet innovations as well. In 2014 the foundation held a Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India in New Delhi to showcase innovations in sanitation technology throughout the country.
Six of the best ideas at the event were announced and awarded grants that totaled $2 billion in funding to continue developing next-generation toilets for developing countries.
One of these winners, the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, offered a prototype that uses a single-household container that uses feces to incubate black soldier fly larvae and transform the material into a marketable product. Not only is the device safe and sanitary, but it also offers a chance for impoverished families to improve their financial security.
Other highlights from the winners include a toilet that can destroy dangerous pathogens and odor-producing bacteria in waste, a device that uses sand and air instead of water, and a solar-powered toilet with waste-processing capabilities.
According to Philanthropy News Digest, the chair of the BIRAC Foundation, which has partnered with the Gates Foundation on the Indian branch of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, called the event a “congruence of new and applicable science and technology, its affordability, and sustainable implementation.”
So far the challenge has inspired big leaps in toilet innovations to make sanitation and waste management a realistic dream for impoverished communities in developing nations.