15 July 2019
A man looks at a toilet design at the Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing that showcased sewerless sanitation technology. Photo: Reuters
A man looks at a toilet design at the Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing that showcased sewerless sanitation technology. Photo: Reuters

Bill Gates unveils futuristic toilet during China trip

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on Tuesday unveiled in Beijing a futuristic toilet that doesn’t need water or sewers and uses chemicals to turn human waste into fertilizer.

The toilet, which Gates said was ready for sale after years of development, is the brainchild of research projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Reuters reports.

There are multiple designs of the toilet but all work by separating liquid and solid waste.

During a speech at a Beijing event, the billionaire philanthropist 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,” he said.

“The current toilet simply sends the waste away in the water, whereas these toilets don’t have the sewer. They take both the liquids and solids and do chemical work on it, including burning it in most cases,” Gates told Reuters in an interview.

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.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s biggest private philanthropy organization, has committed roughly US$200 million to the toilet project and expects to spend the same amount again before the toilets are viable for wide-scale distribution.

Gates, who on Monday participated in a major trade event in Shanghai, lauded the globalized and free trade systems that made the toilet technology possible.

“I honestly believe trade allows every country to do what it’s best at,” he told Reuters.

“So when I talk about components of this toilet being made in China, others in Thailand, others in the United States – you really want to be bringing together all of that IQ so that you’re getting that combination.”

The next step for the project is to pitch the concept to manufacturers, Gates said, adding that he expects the market for the toilets to be over US$6 billion by 2030.

Tuesday marked 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, the report noted.

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