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Earth Science Idle

Gates Foundation Makes Progress On Reinvented Toilets 167

Julie188 writes "Last summer the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged to spend millions to reinvent the toilet. That investment has born fruit with teams from around the world coming up with many different ways to turn human waste into energy."
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Gates Foundation Makes Progress On Reinvented Toilets

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @02:41AM (#39133935)

    ... now come with a Start button. Blue loo of death, anyone?

    • I don't know about you, but if the wall-paper for the new toilet is three seashells, I'll take my chances with being cryogenically frozen until December 31, 2999!
    • I wonder if it gets infected if it operates slower. "Your request caused an invalid page fault in kernel32.flsh, Click here to report this problem"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @02:43AM (#39133947)

    Has to be said.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @02:43AM (#39133951)

    I don't want to say anything bad about Bill, but this sounds like a pretty shitty idea.

  • KISS Principle (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EnempE ( 709151 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @02:48AM (#39133981)
    Some of these things seem rather complicated and use materials that aren't easy to obtain.

    To provide greater benefit the machine should be able to be manufactured without specialized tools and be able to be built with universally available, preferably recyclable or re-purposed materials. If people can make a living out of making and servicing these toilets then the sanitary and economic (from the created industry) benefit will spread quickly and independently without requiring the oversight of a foreign NGO.
    • They just use a small amount of enriched uranium to aid in tracking where each unit is at all times. Geiger counters are cheaper than RFID readers and more reliable.

    • Thats right, but if you want more "advanced" products, you need advanced production systems.
      There are some products that realize a good idea, but look around: new, better products come along with high-tech and feature rich functionality often realized by new materials, more software, state-of-the-art electronics and so on. And that is what brings an economy forward. Examples: Direct Manufactoring (, Molded interconnect devi
      • Sooner or later, more and more "advanced" products that depend on advanced production systems will eventually lead to a "technology crash." Consider that up until the semiconductor era, most manufactured devices could be replicated, customized, modified, and even produced in small quantities by an experienced, knowledgeable, and determined hobbyist working out of his garage. Even more complicated manufactured goods could still be completely fabricated by a relatively small group of workers operating from

    • by An dochasac ( 591582 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:57AM (#39135239)
      Markus Kayser's solar sintering 3D printer [] shows what is possible when you use ingenuity, technology and two abundant desert resources, sunlight and sand. Mr. Kayser says he is already working with Kohler on the possibility of using solar powered, sand fed replicators like his to make sanitation products such as toilets and plumbing.
    • If people can make a living out of making and servicing these toilets then the sanitary and economic (from the created industry) benefit will spread quickly and independently without requiring the oversight of a foreign NGO.

      This is the same argument Negroponte made for the OLPC laptop.

      1.84 million distributed.

      24,000 to Asia.

      360,000 to Uruguay

      870,000 to Peru.

      One Laptop per Child []

  • Crucial (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BoydWaters ( 257352 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @02:51AM (#39133997)

    Anyone who thinks this is a silly idea needs to spend two weeks in a city without modern plumbing.

  • by GumphMaster ( 772693 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @02:57AM (#39134027)

    Why reinvent the toilet when we already have perfectly functional, no-energy (or very low energy) composting toilet [] and urine diversion [] options? What is it about these options that does not meet the criteria?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:11AM (#39134095)

      Why reinvent the toilet when we already have perfectly functional, no-energy (or very low energy) composting toilet and urine diversion options? What is it about these options that does not meet the criteria?

      Somebody influential won't make a profit.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:16AM (#39134117)

        You mean somebody effluential won't make a profit

      • by dmomo ( 256005 )

        Who influential stands to make a profit from this? Not Bill Gates. So who are you talking about?

        • Who influential stands to make a profit from this? Not Bill Gates. So who are you talking about?

          Err.. well, definately "Not Bill Gates".. He made his money through software monopolies not sewage monopolies, so I guess they are talking about, you know, other people.. ie the ones who want to maintain their monopoly on the provision of sewage infrastructure. In this case Bill is behaving as a good guy and deserves credit.

    • Was going to say the same thing - these don't sound like viable options for low tech third world situations.

    • High population density. I doubt that standard composting toilets continue to be sufficient when your population moves into 4-story, close together apartment buildings.
    • FTA:

      Come up with a toilet alternative that doesn't need plumbed water, a sewer system, electricity and will cost 5 cents or less per user daily to build and maintain.

      This are the requirements, and the toilet you mention seems to fulfill them easily. The main objection may be capacity, as composting is a fairly slow process so you need a relatively large volume, especially when there are many users using it for their daily needs, and not a remote-highway-stop type of service.

      Actually solutions mentioned in the article include microwaves, mechanical rollers and other powered parts. This needs electricity. The cost is also going to be an issue, though the microwaves pr

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        5cents or less is easy - if you don't count any cost for work hours for maintaining. if you do then moving the shit around becomes pretty expensive.

        actually the real problems rise probably from it having to be practical in a high density african ghetto.

        I for one hate wood wc's.

        • It specifically states "to build and maintain" so maintenance is included. Disposal of the waste presumably not, though.

    • Many kinds of composting toilet exist, you have to get slightly fancier for those intended for use in the city, but it's no big deal.

      For those in the country, if you need one with more capacity, you just make the vault taller, so that's easy as can be.

      For those WAY out in the country, you can dig holes and shit in them via an outhouse, then plant trees in the holes when they're about full. Plant a food tree; it won't start producing in less than a year anyway, and your crap will be dirt by then.

      Cities can

    • I own several composting toilets. I am looking forward to something far better.

      If you want to "flush" to the composting location then you need an ultra-low water head. This is problematic for many reasons. If you don't want a flush then you need to rely on gravity and need a vent fan to keep the bad air out of the house. This is problematic too.

      If the compost gets too dry, the process slows, and you end up with fungus that attracts fungus flies. If the compost gets too wet, well ewww.... you have to clean o

      • It is especially difficult to run a system with guests. Imagine spending 10 minutes explaining how to use the toilet. What can go in, what can't, how to flush, what is that stuff down there...

        You still get guests? Wow :)

      • Thanks for answering the question from a point of knowledge. Some of these are less likely to be an issue in tropical Kenya where 'winter' low temperatures are above 13 Celsius (55F). Any toilet system is going to require some maintenance though, just as western flush toilets do (it is just removed from sight). When your options are no sanitation, and some sanitation that requires a bit of effort, perhaps the impediments are not so great.

  • Another way to make money out of a piece of crap! ;)

  • His career is sure going into the crapper.
  • The hate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by santax ( 1541065 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:27AM (#39134159)
    Long time linux lover here. Long time hater of MS policy and business practice. However, this man, who was once the richest man in the world has in the latest 15 years of his life great things for humanity. Things that actually make a different for people. I don't care how much you hate windows or Gates as the former president of that company, but surely you can't be against him spending so much of his fortune (and sure, he has enough money to have a comfortable life even with doing this) to make lifes better... Give the guy a break on this part. He has spend a fortune on his foundation and did so with many great projects that actually got shit done. (no phun intended)
    • Meanwhile, Ellison builds boats.

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      So some does what is determined to be illegal and predatory business; to effective levy an economic rent on you and me. He then pretty well buys off the justice system so the prosecution settles for him paying his debt to society largely with more copies of his own shovelware given to schools and government, that costs him next to nothing to produce and actually if anything further secure his companies dominant position.

      He becomes amazingly rich at least partly at the expense of everyone who has ever gone

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      Gates was talked into being a philanthropist by his father -- an IBM lawyer. My thought is it's just PR. It isn't like he can't afford it or something.

      Me, I have far more respect for the waitress who throws a ten dollar bill in the Salvation Army bucket. That ten bucks actually means something to her, what Gates spends doesn't affect his life or lifestyle at all.

    • We in Latin America are very familiar with this behaviour.

      People that got the upper hand in business by all kind of dubious means start all kind of charitable work and sponsoring of the arts.

      It is called a PR exercise.

      One can't deny that these exercises can have benefits, sometimes immense ones, but they can't rewrite history or palliate the pain and anger of the people who suffered previous bad behaviour.

      What would impress me is if Bill would use his quite reasonable leverage to undo some of the damage his

  • ... please Uncle Bill, hear our desperate plea. Save us from the brown streaks.

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @04:02AM (#39134295) Homepage Journal
    I've been pondering this recently. Here in the USA we tend to feel pretty holier-than-though, but for the most part we have pretty dirty assholes. I mean, poo touched that and we just wipe it off with some paper. If poo touched your hand, would you be content to wipe it off with paper? So why do we tolerate it with our assholes?

    I'd love to see some demographics on countries sorted by asshole cleanliness. I'm guessing that just like education and health care, the USA would be solidly in the middle of the pack. I suspect that Japan probably would have the most-clean assholes in the world, just based on their high end toilet technology. I'm not sure I want to speculate on the dirty end of the scale so as not to risk diplomatic incident.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If poo touched your hand, would you be content to wipe it off with paper? So why do we tolerate it with our assholes?

      Perhaps it is because you tend to not pick up food with your asshole and then put it in your mouth, or (and more likely imho) because we can't smell it.

    • by donscarletti ( 569232 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @05:48AM (#39134749)
      I recommend the arse cleaning hoses found in Malaysia. They don't have the size or expense of a seperate bidet and they're not resident in the unhygenic toilet pot like Japanese integrated bidets. You just lift it off its hook on the wall, point the spray nozzle at your butthole, twist the tap and bam, no more shit on your o-ring. But either way, the European bidet has existed for a century now, there's always been that option at home, the Malaysian hose is the only option small, cheap and simple enough for institutional toilets.
    • I'd love to see some demographics on countries sorted by asshole cleanliness.

      Google for the magazine "Viz and "The Bottom Inspectors" . . . the Office of Bottom Inspectors are responsible for this in the UK:

      if your bottom is pimpled
      or flabby and dimpled
      if your cleft hair is not winnet free
      if inadequate wiping
      has caused gusset striping
      then your bottom belongs to me
      your bottom belongs to me

    • by exa ( 27197 )

      Dude, you have a funny way of putting this hygiene problem so I'll answer :) This happens to be a problem that I've thought about sporadically!

      In our country, Turkey, we use both toilet paper and water to clean our assholes. Because traditionally, in the ala turca toilet they used water. So we ended up adding a small water pipe to the ala franca closet.

      But I have never seen a Japanese toilet. Is it possible that they use a water jet, and then a robotic asshole cleaning wipe with nanotech disinfectants, a la

    • by ChinggisK ( 1133009 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:19AM (#39135995)
      Bah, you think the RIAA is bad, just you wait until Big Toilet Paper has its business model threatened by modern technology...
    • Search for 'Washlet Syndrome' []. There is a price to pay for everything, including being extra clean.

    • by nedlohs ( 1335013 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @11:46AM (#39136853)

      I don't touch my food with my asshole.

      Nor do I touch door handles and other things that other people will touch with my asshole.

      Nor do I "shake assholes" with people.

    • by ffflala ( 793437 )
      I've often wondered why a brief post-dump shower isn't as common a part of US cultural bathroom habits as post-dump hand washing is. Residential bathrooms usually have both a toilet and a shower already, so for most situations this would simply involve an adjustment of one's bathroom habits: no additional equipment required. A hand-held shower nozzle can speed things up, but isn't necessary.
  • Hey, Slashdot poster: I love Bill Gates: I just wish people would stop taking the piss out of him.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @04:38AM (#39134479)
    Look, we can separate this into 2 different camps: developed vs. undeveloped.
    In the developed world, we have plumbing throughout, so the flush sends it to a central area. Now, how useful is that? 2 words: Joules Biotech. They are using genetically modified cyanobacteria, to kick out ethanol and diesel fuel. So, why is this special? Because this uses our sewage as feedstock. IOW, it turns crap into fuel. OTOH, the ideas being pushed here, require loads of energy to try and get rid of crap.

    Then you have the undeveloped world. Basically, we are talking, no plumbing. So, what matters most to them? Soap and a water bowl. Yes. For the vast majority of the world, they use their left hand to wipe their ass(which is why you do not use your left hand in nearly all parts of the world). We could help the undeveloped world by simply getting them resources such as soap to kill the bacteria that are on their hands, esp. the left one. For those of you that think that this is funny, keep in mind that the single highest killer of babies in 3rd world nations is diarrhea. Much of that is from the parents or siblings having dirty hands.
  • Tree Bog (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pfafrich ( 647460 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @05:06AM (#39134599) Homepage
    Best and simpest idea for a toilet I've seen is the tree bog. Its a raised platform over an enclosure space fenced off with chicken wire. Around the bog you plant willow or other greedy trees which rapidly consume the nutrients, effectively turning the poo into biomass. Aerobic decomposition has advantages over anaerobic decomposition and there is no smell if you use a layer of sawdust. The whole thing requires no maintenance as the poo decomposes very quickly. Not good for urban situations but ideal in rural environments.
  • by Rie Beam ( 632299 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:01AM (#39135007) Journal

    The whole idea behind these toilets is that water is scarce and the region is poor -- that's only half-true. If you want to get down to serious, cheap answers, fund plumbing of salt water in from the ocean -- it won't be useful for drinking without some prior preparation, but the toilets, if properly made, need not be an advanced technology to function. Plus if one goes through the trouble of piping in sea water, perhaps it would open up more inland areas to the possibility of desalination plants? The demand would be limited to simply drinking water and bathing, since the toilets would be "first priority" and not need to have a constant source of fresh water like the former two. The only issue I could really see here is a requirement for redundant plumbing, in areas where having too much plumbing must seem like...well, a pipe dream.

    • Re:Salt Water? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Rie Beam ( 632299 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:02AM (#39135011) Journal

      I did find this little gem. []

      "In 1960 legislation was introduced to promote seawater flushing on a larger scale, followed by substantial investments in a separate network although the system was unpopular due to the need to build a separate plumbing network in each house. Seawater initially was sold, but from 1972 on it was provided for free and the costs of the system were recovered through the drinking water tariff. In 1991, about 65% of Hong Kong's households used seawater for flushing. By 1999, this percentage had increased to 79%"

      • One advantage here is that, whereas in Hong Kong, an entire new network had to be developed under an older one, in areas with no substantial plumbing, the entire process could be done in one shot.

        • by dargaud ( 518470 )
          At the coastal antarctic station [] where I worked we had a complex water pipe system between the dessalination plant and the station built as such: drinking water pipe inside a sea-water pipe going one way inside a sea-water pipe going the other way inside a thick layer of insulation.

          The reason for the two-way seawater was to continuously recirculate it to avoid freezing. And since sea-water is less prone to freezing than clear water, it was also a bonus. It wasn't actually sea-water but the even saltier (a

    • having too much plumbing must seem like...well, a pipe dream.

      I see what you did there.

  • They are desperate to find some way to recycle the brown Zunes.

    -- Terry

  • What people really want is a toilet that shits for them! You know, to take all the strain out of the experience and make it a more relaxing affair. First the system would set you at ease and then... assist. For sure, it would make hemorrhoids a thing of the past.
  • by sl4shd0rk ( 755837 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:36AM (#39136185)

    Years ago it was the iLoo ( I wonder what Microsoft's fascination is with crap?

  • Some of my Scout parent friends are military doctors and they told me that better field latrines were a measurable factor in WWII. All armies had established procedures for setting them up, and the fastidius Germans did a solid job of it, if you pardon the pun---but the Americans added an additional step of covering the latrine box with a burlap sack as a fly barrier. The flies are a major disease vector, and as a result American troops were healthier and more combat ready.
  • I have always wanted to know how to use the three shells.
  • would be like the "iPad of sanitation," he said.

    There's an app for that.

  • I suppose it might be useful for log dumps...

  • by polyp2000 ( 444682 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @01:09PM (#39137881) Homepage Journal

    I guess you might be able to "Share" your lavatory adventures too.

  • I pulled up the article, started reading, that picture was NOT originally of Bill Gates.

  • Up till now we've always taken a crap because of Thomas Crapper [], the man often mistaken as the inventor of the toilet.

    Does this mean we should now say, "I got to go take a Gates?"

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.