Saving lives, one flush at a time

(NC) Millions of dollars are being invested in an attempt to reinvent the toilet. The dollars come from the Gates Foundation, and the challenge is to develop technology capable of disposing of human waste, hygienically, without lavish consumption of water, costly pipeline systems, and industrial-scale processing plants.

Driving this search is the need to save lives. Over 40 per cent of the world’s population lives without engineered waste disposal systems, causing a million and a half people to die each year from gastro-intestinal diseases due to primitive, disease-carrying toilets or none at all.

In American Standard, in partnership with the Gates Foundation, visited an impoverished area of Bangladesh where the use of unsanitary pit toilets had long been the root cause of widespread mortality, especially among young children.

This leading toilet manufacturer, sent a team of engineers and field workers to Rajshahi to study the situation. They found that the pit toilets lacked any kind of closure to prevent the spread of contamination from the accumulated waste. The engineering team developed an improved version of the existing pan that, in the words of Jim McHale, group leader “Would be more effective at separating people from the waste, and therefore more effective at stopping the transmission of disease.”

The new toilet, called SaTo, was welcomed by the community, who found it easier to use and keep clean, and relatively odour-free. A bonus was that it was designed for local manufacture, creating a viable business opportunity so the people of Rajshahi could build their own upgraded toilets.

Success in Bangladesh led to another grant from the foundation – sending their team to sub-Saharan Africa late this year. They will benefit from experience gained in Bangladesh, but as McHale explains, the challenge will not be the same, “In Bangladesh, we designed a solution that met local needs and expectations. For Rajshahi water supply was not a problem. Here, water is far less abundant, and that may well dictate a different approach.”

Simone Abele, of American Standard in Canada, announces that until the end of this December, a SaTo system will be donated to a third-world country each time an American Standard Champion toilet is sold in Canada. If you are not in the market for a new toilet you may leave a “like” on the company’s Flush for Good Facebook page. One SaTo will be donated for every100 likes.

You can learn more at

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