Sanitation breakthrough in Seattle could change the design of toilets

Right now, you can go to the Discovery Center in Seattle to see one of the first major sanitation breakthroughs in more than 250 years.

It started at the Gates Foundation with a silly sounding, yet, pressing situation: What do we do with all the poo?

The current sanitation situation around the world is less than sustainable, nor is it safe for everyone.

Researchers around the world are finding ways for our waste to be less wasteful.

Around 3.6 billion of us do not have access to a safe way to use the bathroom. Hazardous sanitation kills more than 800,000 people every year.

"Sanitation is really at the heart of so many interconnected global challenges," said Sarah Bloom, curator of exhibitions at the Gates Foundation. 

Wastewater is a first world problem, and according to researchers with the Gates Foundation, the current sanitation infrastructure desperately needs help.

"Right here are 77 gallons of water," Bloom said. "The 77 gallons of water indicate how much one person flushes away in terms of clean water every week in a regular toilet."

In one week, you could fill the average bathtub with how much you flush.

The groundbreaking possibility of a solution to the problem is sitting at the Discovery Center right now.

"If you look inside - the inside looks a little different, and that's because it's created in such a way where your pee goes somewhere else than your poo when you're using this," said Patrick McMahon, manager of visitor experience at the Gates Foundation.

This new design for a toilet features no sewer pipe and no water lines.

"It takes all the liquids slowly throughout the process and puts them through a filtration system to get cleaned and get them to be reused and recycled safely," McMahon said. "The solids go through a process where they kind of spin it through a centrifuge and then they squeeze some of the water out."

After about a day, your waste turns into 'fecal cakes' -- essentially solids stripped of its moisture.  What you do with the cakes is up to you. Since the pathogens get destroyed, you can toss it or use it for your yard.

The prototype toilet is being tested right now in parts of South Africa. As the invention progresses, engineers are looking for ways to make it smaller and cheaper for the consumer.

If you want to check out this exhibit, it is completely free to go to at the Discovery Center at the Gates Foundation. It'll be in Seattle through the year.


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