The toilet cannot remain the same if we want to save water and also solve the global sanitation problem, in which Bill Gates has already got involved
Transformation is not always caused by a new product being released onto the market, but also by enhancing what already exists. The first iPhone, with no keyboard, a touch screen, and an app store proves the point. The same thing is happening with the toilet. Yes, we are talking about that object that you have in your bathroom. The toilet of the future still doesn’t exist as a product, but it’s on the way, and it’s the crucial piece not only to help you reduce your waste water at home, but also to guarantee that sanitation reaches everyone and stops being a global problem.
According to United Nations data from 2013, while 6 billion of the 7 billion people that exist in the world have access to a smartphone, only 4.5 billion have access to a functional bathroom. The other 2.5 billion have inadequate sanitation, with around 1.1 billion still answering the call of nature outdoors.
Leaving macro and coming back to micro, it is well known that the toilet is the main source of water use in the home, representing around 30% of a home’s consumption of the resource. Older and less efficient toilets can use as much as 22 to 26 liters of water per flush. The newer ones do more with less, but the quantity is still high, around 5 liters per flush according to data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that created the WaterSense label for toilets that use 6 liters or less per flush. This, however, is still not enough to solve either the question of sanitation or the waste of water.
The future of the toilet passes through Bill Gates’ hands
Bill Gates, best known as the founder of Microsoft, launched a competition in 2011 called “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge”. The first prize winner was the California Institute of Technology (USA), which received a prize of US$ 100 thousand for the design of a toilet that uses solar energy to feed an electrochemical reactor and, in turn, generates hydrogen and electricity.
Since then, he hasn’t stopped. In 2016, through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates invested US$ 6.3 million in Firmenich, one of the world’s biggest fragrance manufacturers. The idea is to identify the elements that make feces smell bad and create a fragrance that makes the human brain not notice the odor. It may seem strange, but one of the challenges for basic sanitation in undeveloped countries is the bad smell. Many people that live with bad sanitary conditions avoid primitive bathrooms, mostly built on pits, to avoid the stench, opting, instead, to defecate in the open air.
Another innovation that has been receiving investment from the foundation is the Omni Processor, from the family company Janicki Bioenergy, a machine capable of transforming feces into drinking water, electrical energy or ashes. Bill Gates even tasted the water that came out of the equipment to show how much he believes in the invention.
Inspirations from Japan and Brazil
One of the inspirations for the toilet of tomorrow comes from Japan, the country that will host the 2020 Olympic Games and for this reason is already updating its public toilets. Not only because its bathrooms with technological toilets are practically tourist attractions, but because around 4 thousand public toilets in Tokyo are older versions, with the toilet at floor level, which is a big turn off for Westerners.
Heated seats, thicker bidets, and a button to turn on a waterfall sound to disguise unpleasant noises. These are some of the resources of the Japanese toilets, with the most popular ones being manufactured by Toto, and Lixil. However, as not every toilet needs to be high-tech, Lixil have created the Sato, a low cost toilet developed with the financial support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The aim for Lixil, which recently transformed the product into a business division, is to spread these cheap, yet effective toilets to the billions of people in the world who still don’t have access to a decent toilet.
Part of the intelligence of the Sato toilet is in the way that it creates a barrier between the user and their residues and in how they are returned to the earth in such a way that urine and feces become compost. The Sato was invented in 2012, and at the end of 2017 received an update. The new generation of products include a simple, yet intelligent self-sealing trap door to reduce the transmission of diseases and eliminate odors.
Besides this, the Sato comes with a v-shaped part that goes below the bowl and connects to the individual pits. This mechanism makes the connection between the two pits easier and eliminates the risks of blocking. And moreover: the new generation model requires 80% less water per flush than the previous ones.
India is one of the countries with huge problems when it comes to sanitation, which has become Sato’s main target. Since the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission, a government initiative to eradicate open defecation by 2019, the number of people that still defecate outside has fallen from 550 million to around 320 million people. Lixil has already promised, in 2012, to improve the access to sanitation and hygiene for 100 million people in the world by 2020.
Less inventive, but equally effective, is the Piipee, a Brazilian solution that eliminates the use of water for urination by 100%. In other words, you don’t need to flush every time you do a pee. You don’t need to press the flush after urinating, but the Piipee instead, which releases a bio-degradable, environmentally friendly solution into the toilet bowl that works on the physical-chemical characteristics of the urine, removing the odor, changing the color, and cleaning the toilet, all without water. According to data from the company, 6 million liters of water have already been saved in Brazil alone.
What can I do?
The change might start at home when you are building or renovating your bathroom. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has created the WaterSense trademark for toilets using up to 6 liters per discharge, has a tool in its website so you can find the most economical domestic toilet, selling around the world – including Brazil.
Content published in March 15, 2018
What Braskem is doing about it?
Accelerated by Braskem Labs 2016, Piipee was the company that stood out the most by the number of connections and business made possible during its acceleration program. In addition to having concluded a contract with Braskem to install Piipee in the toilets of all companies’ plants in Brazil, Piipee is also in companies such as Vale, Arcelor Mittal, Enel, Mdias Branco, Oxiteno and Ypioca.
Braskem Labs is an acceleration platform for start ups that have solutions that meet the urges of society using chemistry or plastic. The Braskem Labs platform includes three programs that aim to strengthen Braskem’s relationship with innovative entrepreneurs in different stages of development of their businesses, helping them with knowledge exchange, mentoring and networking.