Rethinking the Shape of the Toilet in Asia

Video | 7 July 2014

There are different ways of thinking about the future of the humble toilet, says Michael Hoffman, Professor of Environmental Science at the California Institute of Technology and winner of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge set by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Transcript

Title: Rethinking the Shape of the Toilet in Asia

Description: There are different ways of thinking about the future of the humble toilet, says Michael Hoffman, Professor of Environmental Science at the California Institute of Technology and winner of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge set by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Michael Hoffman
Professor of Environmental Science
California Institute of Technology

Q: Why is there a need to reinvent the toilet?
A: We may come up with different toilet designs but that’s not the goal. It’s really to have an alternative to current urban practice, which could be translated into the developing world or even into regions where sanitation is not wide spread into let’s say middle class, after middle class, apartments, or home where basically the waste goes untreated. They may discharge it from the property though and basically contaminates the environment.

Q: Is a waterless toilet system necessary in developing Asia?
A: Water is a part of sanitation. I don’t think people would feel comfortable if its totally a solid processing and how do you clean up and I think that aside from a few countries like Sweden, Norway,  Finland, where truly waterless systems can function and operate, when they’ve been translated else where they’ll fail. So, I think we have to stick with the water side, it just conveys the message of more proper sanitation.

Q: How can investments in sanitation be economically viable and affordable to people who live on less than $1 a day?
A: That’s certainly a very difficult challenge and in fact, Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, are trying to switch the focus somewhat to middle class and upper middle class. People in the developing world that could afford a more expensive system and get it introduced and accepted into countries where improper sanitation is practiced on a wide scale. I think eventually cost come down. Bill Gates has used the example of smartphones, at one point typical mobile phone was 10-20 thousand US dollars and certainly the cost has come way down and then it’s a status symbol too. So, people should not from an economical point of view be buying iPhones, right?