Published on The Water Blog

Gates Foundation Awards "Toilet for the Future"

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Image... and the winner is an entry from the California Institute of Technology! Michael Hoffman received the prize for the "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge" from Bill Gates himself on August 14, 2012 in Seattle. The award winning technology model is based on a self-contained, sun-powered system that recycles water and breaks down human waste into storable energy.

This technological breakthrough is expected to help address the world's dismal sanitation picture where 2.5 billion people still defecate in the open. And the solution is tough since one of the first steps on the sanitation ladder -- a latrine -- is relatively cheap to construct but really difficult to keep in decent condition, while the ultimate step -- a flush toilet -- requires huge investment in public sewer infrastructure. The Microsoft co-founder believes that sparking new innovations in toilet technology will help communities gain access to improved sanitation and change the options available to poor people.

Prizes stimulate innovative ideas and provide breakthrough solutions, and this field deserves the attention of the world's top talent. The solar powered compact system is indeed a unique model. Solar generated toilets are themselves not new, but the results were mixed in the past. The hope is that this innovative compact model will yield better results. However the cost and affordability aspect along with market outreach, including the operation and maintenance elements need to be closely analyzed, especially if such a technology will benefit the poor who are deprived of basic sanitation. The issue of sustainable sanitation cannot be tackled by technology solutions alone. New technologies need to be combined with policies that stimulate users' demand, encourage people to practice good hygiene behaviors, and finance the sub sector to make sanitation work at scale.


Soma Ghosh Moulik

Practice Manager, World Bank

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