The can, the loo, the john, the crapper…Whatever you call it, it’s where you go to poop.
In the past 200 years, no innovation has saved more lives than the toilet. Really. So much so that Nov. 19 has been named World Toilet Day.
Most of us take it for granted. But for 2.6 billion people on our planet, there’s no safe place to do their business.
In fact, a report to be released tomorrow by the international organization WaterAid finds that more people today lack access to adequate sanitation than did in 1990.
That’s why the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – best known for their work to prevent the spread of malaria, HIV and tuberculosis – is taking on the porcelain throne, by inviting some creative thinking on the pot.
While the flush toilet – the most common type of commode in the United States — has been around for over 200 years, one in seven people on the planet don’t use any type of toilet at all.
According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, the daily habits of the average American cost about $1,000 per person — per year. That includes the cost of the toilet itself, the water to flush it and the sewage treatment required for a safe system. It’s no wonder it’s known as a throne.
At that expense, toilets like the ones we have here are beyond the wildest dreams of so many of the world’s bottoms.
In fact, just having a toilet is no panacea; if the equipment doesn’t send the waste to a safe, confined septic tank or treatment system, its not much better than having no toilet at all. In fact, some eighty percent of the world’s poop is deposited — untreated — straight into rivers and water supplies, spreading diseases, destroying lives and costing a load of money for overtaxed underdeveloped governments, according to researchers at the International Development Research Centre.
Diarrhea is one major killer; it is responsible for 1.5 million deaths every year, mostly among young children living in developing countries. And most of those deaths are entirely preventable.
In July, the Gates Foundation announced $42 million in grants to spark innovation for the capture and storage of waste, or for processing it into reusable energy, fertilizer and fresh water. The foundation is focusing on cheap solutions- new toilet models must cost no more than 5 cents per person, per day, and be easy to install, use and maintain.
It’s also working with communities to send the message that poop belongs in the potty.
According to the World Health Organization, sanitation has far-reaching impacts, generating $9 for every $1 spent in the form of productivity and reducing health care costs. This is particularly true for women and girls, who risk sexual assault in many places where they are forced to use the restroom in public or miss school when they are menstruating in schools without bathrooms.
The Gates Foundation launched an infographic this week explaining the finances behind the flush. Check it out here.