Gates Foundation launches several rounds of reinvent the toilet challenge (RTTC)

  • Marijn Zandee
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Re: Gates Foundation launches 2nd round of reinvent the toilet challenge

Dear all,

First of all, I realise that I was thinking too much from a perspective of (remote) rural communities. I guess in (unplanned) urban situations it should be a lot easier to have plumbers who are specialised in repairing an un-conventional toilet solution. As there are many more potential clients there. (yes mobile phones are sometimes repaired in Nepal, but you have to take them to a city; which, with a toilet is hard to do).

Also, I am genuinely interested in the work and results of the BMGF on sanitation and yes of course they can do with their money what they like (some of their work is very good). But they are moving in a more technology oriented direction. They do (with this challenge) present things in a way that suggests that (more) technology will be the driving factor to create sustainable sanitation for all, which I just do not believe in.

One of my main interests in this discussion is how this issue (what level of technical complication, price, required additives would be sustainable) is seen by the large group of professionals on this forum. So far in the discussion here everyone seems to step over that issue very lightly, which surprises me.
By the way, in this context I would think of high-tech as: can not be fixed with standard plumbing tools such as: pipe, hose, plunger, wrench and if all else fails: duct tape.

I see how a nicer toilet could be easier to sell, but I think the main challenge will remain to actually convince people to invest in a toilet in the first place. That may be easier if it is more easy to use and relevant to their situation (portable, while still giving privacy?), but there is more to it than that.

Further I think that the comparison between sanitation and mobile phones is not very useful. The differences between the world of mobile phones and toilets are just too big. A very short and unscientific way of putting this: a mobile phone is a social utility and is a gadget, while a toilet is not. (It would be nice to have a long discussion about that one as well :-)). I am sure there are lessons to learn, but convinced that there are less then many people think.

PS, I do also (partly)agree with a lot of things people mention here, but there are things that are in my view debatable and to create a lively debate you sometimes take somewhat more extreme positions than you really want ;-).

Regards

Marijn

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  • Florian
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Re: Gates Foundation launches 2nd round of reinvent the toilet challenge

I think the BMGF initative is good. Research is always important and a well conceived campaing to draw media attention to an urgent problem is equally welcome and necessary.

What I'd critisise is that this campain is based on and nourishes that dear illusion that we can solve the worlds problems by technology, by smart inventions.

We now have a lot of great sanitation technologies available, lot's of different options that are able to provide satisfying solutions to any thinkable problem and situation. So it's obviously not because of a lack of good technologies or systems that we still have this huge gap with sanitation coverage worldwide. It's also not so much because of a lack of money. It is much more because of a lack of local capacities and functionning structures to provide sanitation services.

Unfortunatly these problems can hardly be addressed by a smart campaign like the "reinvent the toielt" challenge. It rather will take an increadibly huge amount of work, a lot of money and long time to develop the local structures and capacities that will able to properly use all these nice technologies for providing good sanitation services to all.

But of course this initative may give us a few additional good technological options, which certainly would be a good thing.

Florian


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  • jkeichholz
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Re: Gates Foundation launches 2nd round of reinvent the toilet challenge

Marijn Zandee wrote: Further I think that the comparison between sanitation and mobile phones is not very useful. The differences between the world of mobile phones and toilets are just too big. A very short and unscientific way of putting this: a mobile phone is a social utility and is a gadget, while a toilet is not. (It would be nice to have a long discussion about that one as well :-)). I am sure there are lessons to learn, but convinced that there are less then many people think.


I think one lesson that can be learned from the telcom sector is that communication has for long been a neglected need that was eventually solved via the introduction of affordable base stations and handsets. Who would have thought that e.g. economic prosperity in a country like Kenya now greatly depends on the recent advancements in the telcom & IT sector - whereas one would probably assume that there are more urgent sectors that need to grow? In Kenya, it's this sector - and not the agricultural, energy, health or infrastructure sector.

I support this far-fetched comparison between the WASH and telcom sector because it may change our current position ("toilet is not a social utility") into one where a toilet is regarded as a desirable object. So while phones and toilets are two completely different objects with different markets, there's still a long neglected need as a common starting point and the added value both products can deliver (various businesses based on mobile communication; businesses based on toilet by-products or Kiosks like the Ikotoilet in Kenya).

Maybe similar to the Peepoo bag system which also isn't considered a true toilet by many, but which has the advantage that it is modular (!) and has a direct return on investment for the users.

This modularity (see the Reinvent the toilet challenge - single, integrated on-site treatment options) is key, imo, especially in an area where consumers are used to buying small units of everything (food, cigarettes, prepaid payment options, etc.). So when I say that there's a lesson to be learned from the telcom sector, I am not only talking about the desirable qualities of the products or its sexiness to consumers, but also about the modularity of any on-site system that may also scale to a smaller factor and a use-scenario that we may also find in the telecom sector (short telephone calls, billed by seconds, prepaid options, credit transfer, flexibility of mobile payments and so on). My ideal toilet system would target these aspects.

@Christoph: thx for sharing your approach with us! I guess most of us never knew that you had also contributed (one of) your approaches to the BMGF. I haven't but would love to come up with a suitable concept as well.

Juergen Eichholz
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  • secretariat
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Re: Science article and video about re-inventing the toilet

Hey everyone,

Here is the link for the video 'Finding a New Way to Go', an interesting one about conventional and alternative sanitation systems made by Science Magazine - it also mentions the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

video.sciencemag.org/Featured/1773936333001/1

It is 4 minutes and a half, it's clear with some well-known examples. It may not be so attractive as the one from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but I assume it's due to the different audiences. Anyway, well-done videos are always good ways to communicate messages and facilitate learning processes.

Best regards,
Cecília.

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  • muench
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Re: Science article and video about re-inventing the toilet

Dear Cecilia,

Thanks for sharing this link. I like the video, yes it is plain and simple but it is just so good to see how mainstream media, like Science, report on this topic. I was actually one of the people interviewed by the journalist who speaks in the video (Gretchen Vogel), so I am really keen to see her final article. At this stage, it is not yet available for free reading, only for purchasing (maybe later?).

What she says in the video is mostly very correct. I am happy to see that they used 3 or 4 photos from SuSanA's flickr photo collection (for anyone who doesn't know this collection yet, see here: www.flickr.com/photos/gtzecosan/collections/ ).

One thing I didn't like so much is how they showed the urine diversion flush toilet (the picture shows the NoMix toilet by Roediger Vacuum), rather than mentioning the UDDT, which would have made more sense here, in my opinion (e.g. she says the brownwater, without the urine, is less smelly; that is not a siginificant difference). Less water use is also not that significant.
But it is probably easier for Westerners to relate to the NoMix toilet, maybe that's why (their production is by the way discontinued as of this year). There might be other companies in the future who try to bring out a better model, who knows.

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Elisabeth

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  • muench
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Re: Reinvent the toilet fair in Seattle 14-15 August

Dear all,

You know that the toilet fair at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is currently going on in Seattle (it finished today). Bill Gates himself handed over the price. I was curious to see how much media attention this event would draw.
Without searching much, I have seen these two:

In German news (with a nice video): www.welt.de/vermischtes/weltgeschehen/ar...oiletten-retten.html
(even the Prince of Orange (Netherlands), Willem Alexander, was there (if I spotted him correctly in the video))

On BBC:
www.bbc.com/news/technology-19271061

Quote from the BBC article:

In total 28 designs were shown off at the fair and the winner was a team from the California Institute of Technology.

Led by Prof Michael Hoffman, the toilet they designed was solar-powered and generated hydrogen gas and electricity. They won a $100,000 prize.

"We couldn't be happier with the response that we've gotten," Bill Gates said at the event.


Let me know where else you might have seen it mentioned this week?
Good stuff!

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Elisabeth

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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Reinvent the toilet fair in Seattle 14-15 August

www.gatesfoundation.org/press-releases/P...hallenge-120814.aspx

Has some more information on the round 2 winners also.

Will more detailed technical descriptions of the systems be published somewhere?

Microbiologist & emergency WASH specialist
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  • jkeichholz
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Re: Gates Foundation launches 2nd round of reinvent the toilet challenge

I also find the comments interesting: www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2012/08...for-the-21st-Century

(+Carol? :-)

www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/08/15/1588...s-at-sanitation-fair

(both links via Karsten @ SuSanDesign / FB)

And now Mashable also picked up the story, with pics of all teams
mashable.com/2012/08/16/bill-gates-reinvent-toilet-fair/
(always the site with the worst comments though)

Juergen Eichholz
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  • muench
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Re: Gates Foundation launches 2nd round of reinvent the toilet challenge

And our SuSanA partner Eawag from Switzerland won an award for their toilet design worth USD 40,000. See here (in German):
www.news.admin.ch/message/index.html?lang=de&msg-id=45585

Well done!

And thanks for the links, Jürgen. In the blog post of the Impatient Optimist which you had given, there is a link to a video from a trip Bill Gates made to South Africa in 2009. It is 4 minutes, with Bill Gates narrating, and the first half shows his visit to Durban, where he met for example with SuSanA partner University Kwa Zulu Natal (Chris Buckley) and Neil Macleod.
Our sanitation colleagues in Durban can be very proud of themselves for helping to get Bill onto the right track here in terms of sustainable sanitation, i.e. not just any type of toilets but better ones than what we know at the moment!

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Elisabeth

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  • jkeichholz
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Re: Gates Foundation launches 2nd round of reinvent the toilet challenge

Are we going to have anyone presenting the results from the challenge during the upcoming SuSanA meeting?

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  • tmsinnovation
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Re: Gates Foundation launches 2nd round of reinvent the toilet challenge

Hi Jürgen

No such presentation is in the agenda at the moment. ( www.susana.org/lang-en/meetings/16th-sus...ing-stockholm-sweden )

Are you coming to the 16th SuSanA meeting?
Perhaps you would want to present the results?

I think it would be a really interesting presentation and attract a lot of interested folks to come and listen.
What would you feel should be included in such a presentation?

Look forward to your response.
Trevor

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  • jkeichholz
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Re: Gates Foundation launches 2nd round of reinvent the toilet challenge

Hi Trevor,
I won't make it to the 16th meeting, but it would be great to have someone from BMGF talking about the challenge and also showcasing what has been displayed during their Reinvent the Toilet Fair. Are they already invited to the meeting?

It would maybe also be interesting to hear/see the results from those who didn't win a prize but who had contributed and would like to share to a limited audience (NDA?) or even publicly what their toilet plan looks like. Similar to what Christoph had written some time ago.

All three prize winners (so far) were universities who had only covered the treatment side. So the talk by EAWAG will also be very interesting with their urine diversion approach and because they also focus on toilet design (which I am somehow missing on the treatment prize winners?). After all, the toilet is the interface most users interact with - and not the treatment side.

In any case, it will be great to hear about new approaches and also technologies that are not only made for developing countries.

Juergen Eichholz
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