When Bill Gates stands on stage with a jar of human poop, you know you better listen up.
Bills Gates – founder of Microsoft, billionaire philanthropist, and lovable nerd – spoke at the Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing on Tuesday to showcase a range of poop-related inventions in the hopes of sparking a "toilet revolution" and saving millions of lives across the world.
"I have to say, a decade ago I never imagined that I'd know so much about poop," Gates told the crowd during the opening plenary. "And I definitely never thought that Melinda would have to tell me to stop talking about toilets and fecal sludge at the dinner table."
Teams of scientists around the world came together at the event to show off a range of the first commercially available, pathogen-killing, reinvented toilets and small-scale waste treatment plants, called omni-processors, that can process the poop without sewers or water lines. Instead, the poop is dealt with locally, eliminating nasty pathogens and converting waste into by-products like clean water and fertilizer.
Speaking about his poop jar, Gates added: “You might guess what’s in this beaker – and you’d be right. Human feces. This small amount of feces could contain as many as 200 trillion rotavirus cells, 20 billion Shigella bacteria, and 100,000 parasitic worm eggs.”
Toilets are a serious business, so if you have access to one, then you should count yourself extremely lucky. More than half of the world’s population live without access to safely managed sanitation and over 1 billion people still defecate in the open without a toilet. Among the many social problems this raises, it’s a nightmare when it comes to the spread of diseases such as cholera, parasitic worms, rotavirus, and dysentery. As reported by a UN report in 2012, poor sanitation kills 2.7 million people every year.
“The problem will get worse if we don’t do something about it,” said Gates.
To remedy this problem, over $200 million of cash has been poured into the reinvention toilet by the Gates Foundation alone since 2001. Finally, after contributions from scientists and experts around the world, the fruits of the investment are here and ready to go on sale.
“This Expo showcases, for the first time, radically new, decentralized sanitation technologies and products that are business-ready,” added Bill.
“It’s no longer a question of if we can reinvent the toilet and other sanitation systems. It’s a question of how quickly this new category of off-grid solutions will scale.”
You can expect more good news to come, too. Numerous finance institutions – such as World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the African Development Bank – announced at the expo that they would work to unlock $2.5 billion for sanitation projects in the cities of low- and middle-income countries. The French Development Agency also agreed to double its funding for sanitation work globally by 2022, up to $683 million per year.