On a stage in Beijing, Bill Gates took out a glass of yellowish brown fluid and placed it on a nearby podium.
"This is a human waste container," he said, as a colorful animation of the huge crowds of viruses that are usually found in cocoa on top of a screen behind him. "That, we will keep in the jar."
Gates was speaking at the opening of the three-day Reinvented Toilet Exhibition in China, which shows the different services and concepts of waste processing that resulted from a challenge of the Bill and Melinda Gates 2011 Foundation to change what happens to thousands of poacts millions of people. people. In large parts of the world, waste is often not treated, contaminates drinking water sources and spreads diseases that cause deaths in childhood, malnutrition and developmental delays.
It is not an easy feat causing such a revolution.
175 years ago, the most important cities in the world began to change on a large scale as humans went to the bathroom. In the second half of the 19th century, London set up a municipal works office to establish a large network of underground sewers that would end up with the use of the Thames as a human waste landfill (or what was known as "Great Stink") and epidemics of Cholera recurrents that resulted from poor management of waste. Baron Haussman modernized the sanitation system in Paris at the same time.
But the heavily populated cities of emerging economies could not afford to reproduce those works. In the two most populous cities in India, 25% of sewer flows are not treated in the streams or in the sea in Mumbai; while in Delhi, where the last bath exhibition was held, more than 50% of wastewater is not treated. The president of China launched a "revolution" to improve baths in tourist places and in rural areas by 2015, with 40% of people who still do not have access to safe sanitation. Meanwhile, South Africa's sewage system is collapsing largely due to poor management in wastewater plants.
Recognizing these challenges, the Gates Foundation, in 2011, offered subsidies for scientists and companies to adopt a different approach, when inventing bathrooms that would be cheap to build and use, could get rid of pathogens consistently, it would work without being connected to a large system to treat waste, and could be widely adopted.
According to Gates, this technology is already ready for the market. What this sanitary ware generation now needs is someone to popularize them. What they need is their own Thomas Crapper.
A brief history of the extension of the bathroom
Several men are credited with inventing the toilet several times, by John Harington, a son of Isabel I, at the end of the 16th century; to Alexander Cummings, who in 1775 obtained a patent for an invention of the toilet; Ismail al-Jazari, an inventor of the thirteenth century with an initial interest in automation. What Thomas Crapper, a Victorian plumber, brought to the process was not new, but marketing.
Although it has often been mistakenly believed to invent the toilet, Crapper, yes, what really was his name, was important for its adoption as the man who first commercialized sanitary accessories. When I was a teenager, Crapper had learned as a plumber and built his own plumber business a decade later. In 1866 he opened a bath showroom in the Chelsea district of London. The showroom made it possible to try (and even try) different types of bathrooms, which made people more receptive to the idea of putting them really in their own homes. (Of course, while the washing toilet was an improvement in personal convenience, its adoption could have improved the Thames until the sewage system was improved).
The discharge of water and the "omni-processor"
The Gates Foundation believes that new plumbing technologies can be as profitable as existing options already in situations of multiple units, such as schools and tourist areas, which can become a market of 6 billion dollars in the next decade. "It is not competitive for a unit today," said Rodger Voorhies, head of the global growth division of the foundation, which encompasses sanitation, he said. "In the long run you will be cheaper and more efficient." For the foundation, China is a market for these new bathrooms and a place that could help produce them at cheaper prices.
Expo offers, Voorhies noted, runs the range of sanitary facilities with biological and chemical processes for membranes that filter liquids, as a model of Cranfield University in the UK designed for a home of up to 10 users (see featured image). The bathroom is as usual. but its pedestal houses a system of autonomous treatment that does not use water or power. The solids are extracted, dried and burned on the pedestal, which produces ash that occasionally must be expelled. A model of the Swiss company Helbling seems to work in a similar way to a French press, separating liquids and solids and using high temperatures to treat solids.
The Janicki Omni-Processor, developed by Sedron Technologies based in Washington, is being piloted at a wastewater treatment plant in Dakar, Senegal, in collaboration with the National Sanitation Office of the country. (Omni-Processor is a somewhat technocratic word coined by the Gates Foundation to refer to the fact that treatment machines can handle more than just human waste.) The dry solid damp machine ejects something like ash. Mud vapor passes through a filter and continues to produce potable water (which Gates has tried) while non-potable water products are used to generate electricity.
The first commercial version, which is expected to ship to Senegal in 2019, should be capable of handling residues of at least 100,000 people and is expected to cost between $ 3 and $ 4 million. Sedron hopes that all Dakar waste can be eventually treated by plants and operators that place Omni-Processors.
Voorhies hopes that these bathrooms will someday mimic the way mobile phones allow people in emerging economies to leap landlines. In his observations on Tuesday, Gates referred to its history as a co-founder of Microsoft in the review of personal computing, at a point comparing the solution of the world's drainage problems to "a great new version of Windows" and adding that it would go even further "or which is a very cool piece of software you can do. "
Given our current obsession with technology it is not surprising that more and more we return to the sector metaphors to talk about change in any context, but talking about disruptive baths can be a bit too much for some to say.
Toilet paper … or water?
The question of how to allow more people to go to the bathroom safely and with dignity is only partly a problem of infrastructure and technical design. As with all complex social problems, solutions must also be psychological and cultural. Otherwise, efforts to reinvent the bathroom will be marked by personal preferences locally.
These preferences depend on whether your home is surrounded by forest or in the arid desert, if you think that your business should be followed with toilet paper or water, if you follow a ritual of disciplined morning or is more free in your habits, the different privacy needs depending on attitudes about women and menstruation, and ideas in the form of religion and other words about what is dirty and what is clean.
Another important part of the change in the use of the bathroom is what comes after launching a nice and new installation. Who will maintain and guarantee that the community uses?
The foundation claims that user behavior and perceptions are part of what businesses will have to address to popularize these bathrooms. In other words, now that scientists have done their job, it's time for the modern Thomas Crappers to intensify.