Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Let’s Reinvent the Toilet (in China)

August 23, 2013

Every kid knows poo poo isn’t appropriate dinner conversation. But that’s all we talked about this week in Beijing with Chinese scientists, entrepreneurs, and government officials – and we’re betting that they have an appetite for more. Two years ago, the foundation launched the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge to tackle the problem of sanitation in the developing world. Now, we are launching the first ever country-specific Reinvent the Toilet Challenge in China to focus some of China’s brightest minds on a global problem.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love our conventional crapper. This single invention has saved countless human lives. But, today’s flush toilet is expensive. It has costly infrastructure with miles of pipes and sewage treatment plants. It also accounts for 40 to 60 percent of per capita water use in industrialized countries. And today, 2.5 billion people still lack access to safe sanitation and 1.5 million children die every year as a result. If we can send a man to the moon, I’m convinced we can invent a better toilet.

That’s why we are investing in technologies, policies, and business opportunities that extend affordable sanitation services to poor communities. We are creating a “next generation toilet” that kills all pathogens, is self-contained, is affordable, and that people want to use. Our effort are focused on bringing such a toilet through the complete product life cycle –invention, production, and commercialization - and we are now setting our sights on China as a critical comrade in the toilet revolution.

As the world’s second largest economy, China’s R&D and production capacities have captured the world’s attention. But we realized that we lacked critical partnerships in China that could be game-changers in a reinvention of the toilet. So, we brought together some of China’s leading excrement experts to launch China’s own Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.

The foundation has partnered with the University of Science and Technology Beijing (USTB) to call for proposals from China’s leading research institutions, non-profits and companies. The funding amount will depend on the proposal, but budgets are expected to fall somewhere between $100k and $500k.

In addition to noodles, kites, and fireworks, historians credit China with the invention of toilet paper. Here’s to hoping it can reinvent the toilet to go with it.

 
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