Bill Gates, the man responsible for bringing software to the masses with Microsoft and Windows, has plans to reinvent another industry: sanitation.
Gates, whose philanthropic efforts have helped bring clean water and resources to developing countries via the foundation founded by him and his wife, Melinda, said on Wednesday that he plans to build a toilet that's better suited to developing countries in an effort to cut down on disease and death in those regions.
"Toilets are extremely important for public health and, when you think of it, even human dignity," Gates said as he and his wife kicked off the "Reinvent the Toilet Fair" in Seattle. "The flush toilets we use in the wealthy world are irrelevant, impractical and impossible for 40 percent of the global population, because they often don't have access to water, and sewers, electricity, and sewage treatment systems."
More than 200 inventors, investors, designers, partners and passionate contributors and fans attended Seattle's Toilet Fair, which sought to bring people together to create effective and inexpensive waste management systems for developing regions.
A year ago, Gates and his Foundation held the first competition to "build a better toilet," which invited teams of participants from the U.S., Canada and Great Britain to persuade investors of their superior waste management solutions.
Last year, the California Institute of Technology won first place for designing a solar-powered toilet that could generate electricity and hydrogen gas to power itself. Second place went to Loughborough University, whose team created a toilet that could transform waste into minerals, "biological charcoal" and clean water. The University of Toronto placed third, creating a toilet that could sanitize human waste and filter out the minerals and clean water.
Creating the next-generation of safe toilets for developing countries is something Gates has been very interested in for a long time. Since the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was established in 2000, Gates and his wife have given more than $28 billion to charity, with a large portion of that money being invested in ways to relieve poverty around the globe.
Recently, Gates pledged $750 million to the troubled Global AIDS fund to fight against AIDS, TB and malaria and, about a year ago, donated $42 million in grants to fund "waterless" toilets and encourage innovation in the waste management industry.
About 2.6 billion people around the world don't have proper access to safe and suitable sanitation, and, as a result, more than 1.5 million children die each year from diarrhea-related diseases or illnesses caused by consuming dirty water.
"Beyond a question of human dignity, this lack of access also endangers people's lives, creates an economic and a health burden for poor communities and hurts the environment," Gates said. "Inventing new toilets is one of the most important things we can do to reduce child deaths and disease and improve people's lives. It is also something that can help wealthier countries conserve fresh water for other important purposes besides flushing."
To contact the editor, e-mail: