Bill Gates of Microsoft fame is not someone that you might expect to be a toilet or poo expert, but over the past seven years, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent more than $200m on researching the field.

In the western market, we take toilets for granted, and the diseases associated with poor sanitation are not a major concern in the UK. In developed countries such as the UK, we largely rely on sewers and drainage to handle all our waste products. Our toilets flush away the waste and the dirty water into the sewer along with all the bacteria and parasites that reside in it. Our biggest problem with sanitation is the growing issue with blocked drains and sewers from solidified oil and other solid products which can cause this waste to backup and overflow.

Unfortunately, other countries are less fortunate, and currently, 2.3 billion people around the world still don’t have access to basic sanitation facilities. This represents nearly a third of the entire world’s population.

During a speech at the Reinvented Toilet Expo, Bill Gates shared the stage with a jar of poo, not something you would expect to see a man worth 95.6 billion USD do. This was an actual jar of poo and not a prop; it was there to point out the dangers of faeces when not disposed of in a sanitary manner. The jar could contain as many as 200 trillion rotavirus cells, 20 billion Shigella bacteria, and 100,000 parasitic worm eggs.

This can cause diseases like cholera, diarrhoea and dysentery which kill hundreds of thousands of people every year.

Bill and his wife want to solve this problem, and coming up with an affordable solution could be the largest thing to happen in sanitation for over 200 years.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent more than $200m developing a toilet solution that does not require sewers or electricity at all. The idea is to separate liquid and solid waste and remove harmful by-products in a low-cost manner with no infrastructure in place.

They currently have working prototypes but at the moment the cost per toilet is far too high to make these commercially viable for the 2.3 billion without adequate sanitation. His aim to lower the cost of these units by a factor of ten in the coming years.

The goals of the Reinvented Toilet Technology include:

  • Removes germs from human waste and recovers valuable resources such as energy, clean water, and nutrients.
  • Operates “off the grid” without connections to water, sewer, or electrical lines.
  • Costs less than US$.05 cents per user per day.
  • Promotes sustainable and financially profitable sanitation services and businesses that operate in poor, urban settings.
  • Is a truly aspirational next-generation product that everyone will want to use—in developed as well as developing nations.