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Bill Gates Looks to Reinvent the Toilet 471

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the German government are working on a $10 million project to provide innovative sanitation facilities to 800,000 Kenyans over the next five years. From the article: "The goal is to find 'innovative solutions' for sanitation in poor urban areas. Gates says it's time to move on from the era of the classic toilet. He points out that, despite all the recent achievements, 40% of the world's population, or some 2.5 billion people, still lives without proper means of flushing away excrement. But just giving them Western-style toilets isn't possible because of the world's limited water resources." I wonder what the toilet version of The Blue Screen of Death is.
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Bill Gates Looks to Reinvent the Toilet

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  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:10PM (#36749758)

    I'm just curious how someone will find a way to spin this as a bad thing. Will it be "Gates will probably insist they use only Windows toilets!"? Or maybe it will be "This is just a ploy for him to sell more Windows copies to the poor people after they take a shit!" Or perhaps "I'll be he'll ban Linux and Apple from these shithouses!"

    Come on, I know there are plenty of Slashdotters just ACHING to find SOME way, ANY way to bash him some more. Forget that Steve Jobs does NO charitable activities (Steve don't do charity) or that this has nothing to do with Linux. Someone will find a way. He's the guy with the Borg picture, after all.

    • by DemonGenius ( 2247652 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:12PM (#36749800)
      The real question is... will those toilets run Crysis?
    • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:16PM (#36749880) Homepage

      The bashing began before you started typing. Did you read the summary?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nschubach ( 922175 )

      I'm just trying to figure out why he wants to violate the KISS methodology. You have few options for feces. Put it it into a treatment facility (flush, carry...) to be treated with bacteria that live on that sort of thing, use it for fertilizer or burn it.

      The use of toilets in "western society" simply facilitates the first step in those methods be it an out house, a ceramic bowl, or fancy plastic. I don't understand what he wants them to do. Maybe learn how to use sea shells for less paper usage? There

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        I love the fact that you could have said "I'm just trying to figure out why he wants to violate the KISS methodology" in fewer words such as "Why is he trying to complicate things?". Twit.

        Anyway, he's not. The design process might be more complex; but be sure it will lead to a simple, elegant solution; and not more complex. It has to be cheap to produce and easy to maintain; while being just as sanitary and using less water than the current (pretty complex) flushing toilet. For example, a method for digging

        • by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:43PM (#36750494) Journal

          It's not like there haven't been all kinds of methods devised for getting rid of waste. Hell, NASA probably researched a million different chemicals and methods for getting rid of such waste. I'm sure they didn't just blow all that money on a single toilet.

          Also, there no need for name calling. So I went a little wordy with my sentence... big deal.

          • NASA had the advantage in that their methods had to be efficient when used, but still very expensive to manufacture and maintain. What he needs in this case is something that can be cheaply implemented and not wasting any more resources than needed when used.

      • by Zerth ( 26112 )

        Sterilize it with heat(but without burning it it) and then use it for fertilizer.

        However, that is kind of energy intensive. Giant fresnel furance?

      • by jhoegl ( 638955 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:34PM (#36750286)
        "He doesnt know what the three sea shells are for!"
      • by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:35PM (#36750320)

        Why not have a dual system?

        Liquid waste goes into a liquid recyc system, to be chemically cleansed and reused in future flushes. Doesn't need to be electric powered; you should be able to pump up a couple gallons into a reserve flush bin by a hand-crank pump fairly easily. Solid waste filters out into a bin to be taken away for treatment later (carried or otherwise). That way, you don't have to worry about wasting good, potable water on your flushes.

      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        I'm just trying to figure out why he wants to violate the KISS methodology. You have few options for feces. Put it it into a treatment facility (flush, carry...) to be treated with bacteria that live on that sort of thing, use it for fertilizer or burn it.

        That's only simple for you, the homeowner, because somebody has invested HUGE amounts of money and engineering into infrastructure that makes it possible. Think about it. You take water that has been purified to drinking water standards and moved tthrough a water distribution system, often hundreds of miles. You shit in that drinking water and send it through a separate water collection system, where the shit you put into it is removed and processed and the water treated AGAIN before being dumped in the

        • No, I consider simple being a hole in the ground with a place to sit above it. I grew up on a Midwestern farm and we had an outhouse that was no longer used by us... but I understood it's purpose. I even went camping, a lot, as a kid and had to dig holes where I would bury my waste. It's not something I needed a degree in biology or waste management to understand.

          • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @02:32PM (#36752312) Journal

            But there is a difference between not having a degree in biology or waste management and living under the control of people that tell you to pray for rain in a massive drought. Or who believe raping a baby (or any virgin but easiest with a baby) cures aids. Or eat albino people to gain their powers. And don't act so high and mighty, it wasn't so long ago in the west we burned people alive for voodoo, oops witchcraft or killed people for their faith and made lampshades out of them.

            Civilization, you never truly appreciate it until every last bit of it has been stripped away from you. There are still houses in western Europe where you can see the design for crapping out on to the street. The London sewer system isn't all that old (compared to civilized man capable of building a toilet) but us modern humans still rely on it because we are no longer capable of the massive engineering it took to build it to upgrade it to modern needs.

            A hole in the ground that is all? What about leach area, the radius around the hole in which you shouldn't dig or grow crops etc? How do you know? For thousands of year NO human knew. We thought smell kept evil spirits away. You and I can drink purest water from the tap for less then the cost of a peanut but drink instead poisoned water from plastic bottles at outrages prices and waste most of it for flushing the toilet.

            I sit here within easy reach of enough food to last me a week, pure water how ever much I want, power for a dozen gadgets, in building that doesn't even budge in the worsed storms. Maybe you are too, but I don't pretend that my state in the norm in the rest of the world. Am I grateful for it? Hell no, I am a spoiled westerner but at least sometimes a story like this reminds me there are other places in the world. Maybe you should too. Even knowledge we consider basic is not universal. Just because you had over a decade maybe even two of education doesn't mean everyone has.

          • by hey! ( 33014 )

            OK, let's take your dig a hole in the ground routine and apply to a city like Dhaka, Bangladesh, with a population density of 118,000 per square mile. Let's stipulate that part of the job is keeping diseases like cholera from spreading. "Simple" only counts as a virtue if it gets the job done.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bmo ( 77928 )

      >Forget that Steve Jobs does NO charitable activities

      Steve Jobs isn't public about whether or not he does charities. He thinks it's none of your business.

      And I tend to agree with him on that point.

      Some people use charity as a means of self-promotion.

      Who is better, the Christian that goes to church every Sunday and makes sure everyone knows he goes to church, or the Christian that doesn't always go to church, but volunteers at the soup kitchen downtown and tells nobody?

      Disclaimer, I am a lapsed Episcopal

      • by jhoegl ( 638955 )
        Was it wrong to use someones fame to bring light on issues of the world? HIV/AIDS, smallpox, polleo, hunger
        Or would it be better to suffer in silence feeling like no one cares, because they dont ask and you dont tell?
        The Spotlight is a harsh mistress, and to put ones self on the line for a cause they believe in is more gutsy than not.
        It is still up to the individual, and I respect either way. But the way you write it, you would think the world should keep its mouth shut.
      • by cream wobbly ( 1102689 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:39PM (#36750396)

        Who is better, the Christian that goes to church every Sunday and makes sure everyone knows he goes to church, or the Christian that doesn't always go to church, but volunteers at the soup kitchen downtown and tells nobody?

        Bad analogy. Here we have the hugely famous Christian who we don't know whether or not he goes to church but chances are he doesn't given data from the public record, contrasted with the other hugely famous Christian who we know attends church, volunteers at the soup kitchen downtown every day and makes sure people know about it in order to promote the soup kitchen by association with his name.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by jojoba_oil ( 1071932 )

        Who is better, the Christian that goes to church every Sunday and makes sure everyone knows he goes to church, or the Christian that doesn't always go to church, but volunteers at the soup kitchen downtown and tells nobody?

        I don't see how this comparison works. The fact that they they do/don't go to church has no bearing on the charitable service/money they provide, and you've not indicated whether the first guy does anything for charity. So in the context of a debate about charity, I don't have enough facts to determine which one is "better".

        What I can tell you is that the soup-kitchen guy is probably a criminal who is sentenced to a number of hours of community service... which is why he doesn't brag about it.

        Ok. Kidding as

      • Neither. One doesn't contribute to society, and the other doesn't set an example for others to follow. Publicly announcing acts of charity draws attention to the cause, and it says, "Hey, I'm rich and powerful, and I'm still doing these good works for others." Everyone wants to be like the rich/famous/powerful. If they didn't, there wouldn't be so many lower-middle class voting Republican. Or voting period, for that matter. He is trying to be something we're woefully lacking in this day and age: A Ro
    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      No need to spin it.
      Odds are high they will do what they did with the medicine. To get the free stuff you have to agree not to infringe on patents on drugs they invest in. This means the third world nations get the choice of free drugs now and high prices later or making their own generics and growing the local economy.

    • My only complaint is with the headline. It should read "Bill Gates looks to give money to people to invent a new toilet". I am pretty sure that he will not be involved in the actual development. I think that his foundation does a lot of good work, and respect the fact that he isn't just hording his money, but it should also be recognized that the actual work is done by people in the field, and not by him personally.

      Actually, it kind of reminds me of a recent, very bad decision, at work. We hired a firm

    • I don't need to bash him, but your need to whitewash him is curious. He did both bad and good things.

      Steve Jobs may or may not do charity. It's really his business, isn't it?

      It's curious to me that people who do far less with their lives feel the need to either bring down either man or erect a podium for them. It doesn't make you a better person to be a slobbering idol worshipper nor a spiteful harpy about it.

    • by Pope ( 17780 )
      How amusing. Another story of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that includes the obligatory Steve Jobs bash. Last I checked, Steve was running a very successful multi-billion dollar company full time. Maybe ask again when he's retired?
    • "Your toilet has performed an illegal operation and will be closed. Please remove all poop and reload it again to continue."
    • You're over thinking the problem. The bashing will be real toilet humor, heh. Something about them being full of shit, or about what floats, or you can't keep a good gates flushed down.

      That's far easier than sinking a joke about windows or getting potty mouthed. But, fighting the urge is just pissing in the wind. When mother nature calls with a joke, Just go with it and let it flow.

      Thank you, thank you, I'm here all week folks!

  • by backslashdot ( 95548 ) * on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:13PM (#36749806)

    but I think we can all agree it's a damn good one.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The last comment in the story about BSoDs is disappointing. I like to poke fun at Windows and Microsoft software in general as much as the next person over but I have genuine respect for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They're doing more to solve world problems than most countries are. I can recognize a good thing when I see it and making BSoD jokes when it comes to the foundation just belittles the work they do.

    • by ( 142825 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:17PM (#36749904) Homepage

      It still will be a BSOD, the Brown Screen Of Death.

      It is called humor dammit, even though it may be shitty humor.

    • I can recognize a good thing when I see it and making BSoD jokes when it comes to the foundation just belittles the work they do.

      Besides that, the BSOD died in 2000. Few people under 25 will even get the reference.

      • That's just not true.

        You can still get a BSOD it's just that these days they are rarer than they were in the win9x days and when they do appear the default behavior is to flash the BSOD and then reboot, my current work laptop did this a few times before the manufacturer (Dell) released a few new drivers that I installed...

      • I didn't own a Windows Machine until 2001. I definitely got the BSOD with XP.

      • Had a drive die and got the blue screen the other day in windows 7. First one I've seen in windows 7, but I don't mess with hardware nearly as much as I used to. I've never seen a non-boot drive go bad and cause a machine so much grief.

        But, you are right, it doesn't happen that much anymore...and it almost never hangs on it when it does.
        • I think people have held on to this joke so long that they forget just how often Win9X BSOD'd. People measure WinXP BSOD's by how many they've had in a decade. The Win9X BSOD's were daily.

          The last time any of you were dealing with daily BSODs you were watching the finale of 3rd Rock from the Sun, W. Bush was entering office, and you could still fly on a plane without getting your balls squeezed.

    • They're not as separate as you might think. The B&MGF offers medicines to countries where Microsoft has a limited presence and piracy is rampant. Just one catch: they pharmaceutical companies won't provide the medicines unless the recipient government signs an IP treaty with the USA. A treaty that, purely as a side effect, happens to require them to enforce Microsoft's copyright. The Economist had a good article describing the link a couple of years ago.
  • by Dyinobal ( 1427207 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:16PM (#36749874)
    We all might make fun of gates but he's putting money into something that is worth while and often over looked. Having a safe place to poo is a pretty big deal, as it stands now a lot of places that don't end up draining into rivers and other water sources and making people sick.
    • I'm being serious here. I've always though that many of the worlds poor dug a shallow hole, squat to defecate, and proceeded to bury. Maybe they used a spade of some sort. All in all, it would not be that unusual. Human beings have probably done something similar for the last...well, however long you define when humanity started. A very long time.

    • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:37PM (#36750366)

      What about Composting sawdust toilet [] I'm sure the locals have something they can use in lieu of sawdust.

      You could even create a dehydration toilet [] Urine is collected separate (where it could easily be evaporated off and the urea used as fertilizer). After dehydrated the human waste could take place of animal dung used for heat.

      I think a bigger and better use of this money would be something to sanitize. Something as simple as soap or the 'waterless' alcohol based sanitizers.

      • Grinding any local vegetable matter just to defecate is hardly a sustainable idea... they'd still be better off just digging a hole.

        Seems better to be able to use human excrement in one of those natural gas generation facilities, like some way to direct the waste there without loss of gasses.

  • I wonder what the toilet version of The Blue Screen of Death is.

    I wonder what the Slashdot version of "Why did the Chicken cross the road?" is.

    • I wonder what the Slashdot version of "Why did the Chicken cross the road?" is.

      Why did the [ getRandomEthnicNational() ] cross the road?

      Because the chickens job had been outsourced.

  • Blue Screen of Death will be replaced by Blue Splash of Death, probably chemical.
  • BSoD? Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fsck! ( 98098 ) <> on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:20PM (#36749980) Homepage

    Say what you want about Microsoft, but that's no longer the same thing as Bill Gates. I've been a /. user for around a decade and have certainly made my share of bad Bill Gates jokes, but the guy is literally trying to save the world now. He has the money and the connections to do it, and the projects he's working on are incredibly selfless. Let's give him a break. OP was being very immature IMHO.

    • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

      Heh... One doesn't make up for decades of bad actions that quickly. Moreover...he might have "turned over a new leaf", but from decades of personal experience, that's not so easily done by ANYONE. It's possible- but it's a herculean feat in and of itself. In short, until he's proven himself having changed his tune...he's still got the same inclinations he had when he was at Microsoft's helm. Do keep in mind...he's still Chairman of the BoD.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Last I checked most of the surface area of Earth is water. Why not flush toilets with saltwater when 38% of the population [] lives within 100km of an ocean? Tidal driven pumps could be used for energy efficiency and in desert areas, solar desalinization is a possible source of drinking and irrigation water.

  • 64.0 oz of water should be enough for anyone!

  • by 3.5 stripes ( 578410 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:24PM (#36750074)

    Why re-invent the wheel, just make it low cost and difficult to block up..

  • TeePee (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nanosphere ( 1867972 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:29PM (#36750184)
    Hi my name is TeePee, think of me as your potty assistant! It looks like you're trying to go #2...
  • by Tx ( 96709 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:30PM (#36750202) Journal

    While many of the comments so far are focussing on the issue of toilets, as does the summary, it's the whole sewage infrastructure that's the issue. In the African cities I've been to, large areas don't have proper underground sewers, and sewage is carried in stinking open gutters at the side of the road; having any kind of toilet doesn't help if it's flushing into those open sewers. TFA talks about supporting construction of pit latrines in slums that lack any form of sanitation, so it seems they are being quite practical about working with the existing infrastructure.

  • Why would you want the privy right there in the house?
  • by retroworks ( 652802 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @12:43PM (#36750476) Homepage Journal
    I lived in Africa, and built outhouses. We dug a deep hole. Then, we made a shallow square hole, about 6 inches deep, in the soft pile of dirt. We placed a bucket on the ground inside the square, poured cement (and rebar) around the bucket, and when the cement dried we removed the bucket and had a floor with a hole in it. We put the floor with the hole over the hole we'd dug. Then we required people to sign a EULA agreement that by peeing in the outhouse, they agreed not to copy our idea. Wait, no we didn't. Kidding aside, I don't see that water has ever been part of the toilet equation in the developing world.
  • This is a solved problem. Composting toilets have been around for decades, and are not uncommon in highway rest areas. They're low/no water use toilets. Liquids are either evaporated with help from a solar-powered exhaust stack or separated and run through underground perf pipe to water flower beds. The solids break down into a sterile compost, and can be used for fertilizing flower beds. They could, in theory, be used safely for fertilizing vegetables, but the yuck factor is more than most people can

  • How about teaching people how to use a 5 gallon plastic bucket, some sawdust and their kitchen scraps to compost their poop.

    Link: []

    No water needed. Your poop and kitchen scraps already contain all the water needed for a thermophilic reaction. Furthermore, you get nice compost that these people can use to fertilize their land. If not for growing things they can keep their land from turning into desert.

    Also, *everything* organic goes into the compost pile: fats, oils, bone, meats, f

  • by random coward ( 527722 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @01:19PM (#36751184)
    I am impressed he's found something else to do good with.
    But I suggest he look at what Nepal did:
    He could fix the sanitation issue and solve a large part of their energy issues very cheaply. He just needs to push some startup money to modify the designs for the different areas and some startup money for a micro-finance so people will be able to buy them.

    Here is an article on how nepal did it: []
  • well.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2011 @02:04PM (#36751940)
    I've been to Ethiopia and the clean water issue was pretty much the biggest problem there. Their cities are the very definition of "ancient" I doubt there's any place on earth that's had humans living in large numbers for as long. Buildings are packed so close together there is hardly room for new ones, and the space between the buildings is filled with "homes" thrown together out of cinder blocks, Joshua tree timber and corrugated steel (this is where the middle class live.) Underneath all of this is the plumbing of the city... it's very... very... very old. When a water main brakes, a city truck comes with shovels and a replacement pipe. Ethiopians flock to the truck and grab shovels, dig out the pipe and replace it. The government dudes then hand them cash for their trouble. All the sewer pipes lead to the same place... the river. Where do they get water? You guessed it, the river. there is no simple solution to this system. There are millions of 100+ year old sewage pipes draining into that river. All the pipes are so old they likely all leak and exchange contents between themselves all the time. So even if you could get clean water to begin with it'd likely not be clean when it arrived. You can't dig up the old pipes because they all run under buildings literally older than Jesus in some cases and there are simply no utility records at all.

    On top of every building thats owned by anyone with money is a water tank. They pay other companies to come and fill that tank dailly or weekly. Showering with this water would be too expensive so this is your drinking water and you shower in the tainted water and keep your mouth closed. Another problem is the way bathrooms are designed in Africa and the middle east. In every place I stayed there was a bathtub with no shower head. Instead they had a sprayer on a hose that was part of the tubs faucet that could hang up high if you wanted it. I was told this has something to do with the muslim religion or something, I dont really know. But this sort of setup is against code in the US. Why? Because you can lay the hose down into the tub. If you have the tube full of water, and wash yourself in it... now the water is dirty. If the hose is laying in the water it can now siphon the dirty water back into the water supply. Every single tub is like this.

    The only thing that I saw that was really working there was bottled water. It was plentiful and it was cheap. I could get a liter of good bottled water for about 10 cents. That's still a lot for the poor there, but, with a little more effort it could be made even cheaper.

    Despite all this, the fact of the mater was water born illness was so common they didn't even bother to treat it in most cases. They wait until it becomes a real health problem. We adopted our son there and when we got back our entire family were basically on antibiotics for a full year afterwards. The stuff is so easy to spread, especially when you have a child in diapers that you cure one familly member and a week later another gets sick... in the end the doctor got fed up and just put everyone, even our dog on antibiotics at the same time for 6 weeks strait and finally we were rid of it.
    • I was told this has something to do with the muslim religion or something, I dont really know.

      FWIW, vast majority of Ethiopians are Orthodox Christians, not Muslims.

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