Microsoft founder Bill Gates, on Tuesday, brandished a jar of human waste at a forum in Beijing. The stunt was a part of his speech at the Reinvented Toilet Expo event, where Gates showcased a futuristic toilet technology.
Futuristic toilet – no water, no sewer
During his speech, Gates held up a jar of human feces to show 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,” said Gates, according to BBC.
Gates noted that places without proper sanitation facilities have “way more than that,” adding that kids who play out there are exposed to such conditions all the time. According to WHO (World Health Organization), about 2.3 billion people worldwide don’t have access to even basic sanitation facilities. Lack of such basic facilities can lead to diseases like diarrhea, dysentery and cholera.
Poor sanitation is responsible for the deaths of about half a million children below the age of five per year, and costs about $200 million in healthcare costs and lost income globally, he said.
Gates then showcased a futuristic toilet, which needs no water or sewer. This futuristic toilet uses chemicals to turn human waste into fertilizer. Gates showed multiple designs of the toilet, which is the result of research projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The innovative toilet works by separating liquid and solid waste.
“They take both the liquids and solids and do chemical work on it, including burning it in most cases,” Gates said.
Bill Gates sees a big opportunity
The foundation has committed about $200 million to the toilet project. Moreover, the foundation expects the same level of investment before such toilets are available for widespread distribution. Bill Gates noted that the next step for the project is to pitch this futuristic toilet concept to the manufacturers. He expects the market for the toilets to be worth $6 billion by 2030.
Initially, such futuristic toilets will be installed in places like schools and community bathroom facilities. Once the adoption of such toilets rises and costs come down, they will be made a household phenomenon.
Gates compared the transition from traditional to a new futuristic toilet to the development of personal computers after 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 said he never previously thought that he would know so much about poop. “And I definitely never thought that Melinda would have to tell me to stop talking about toilets and fecal sludge at the dinner table,” he joked.
It is not the first time Gates has used a similar stunt to draw attention to a social cause. In 2009, he loosed mosquitoes at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference in California to draw attention to the deadly sting of malaria, before telling the crowd a minute later that the loosed mosquitoes were disease-free.
China’s toilet revolution
China is now the world’s second-largest economy, but about a quarter of Chinese families still don’t have a sanitary toilet in their homes and only about 60% of the rural homes in the country have toilets that treat human waste, as per the official figures.
To overcome such inadequacies, China has made it a top priority to improve the daily lives of its citizens. Chinese President Xi Jinping has even initiated a so-called “toilet revolution” campaign across the country. In 2015, Mr. Xi said that clean toilets are important for “advancing the revitalization of the countryside.”
Companies that showcased their sanitation technologies at the Toilet Expo event were Clear, CRRC Corp. and EcoSan from China; Eram Scientific Solutions Pvt, Ankur Scientific Energy Technologies Pvt, and Tide Technocrats Pvt from India; Sedron Technologies LLC from the U.S.; and SCG Chemicals, a unit of Thailand’s Siam Cement Pcl.
Gates referred to the inventions showcased at the Expo as the “most significant advances in sanitation in nearly 200 years.” Bill Gates, however, has been criticized for granting thousands of dollars to universities in developed countries for developing futuristic toilet technology, which would take years to pay off, provided they are ever adopted.