Bill Gates tells CNN how he plans to reinvent the toilet
INTERNATIONAL – US business magnate and Microsoft founder Bill Gates told CNN that through chemical processes his team plan to avoid treatment plants and get rid of the waste “right there inside the toilet itself”. He also plans to use techniques to “eliminate the smell” and “get rid of the disease-causing characteristics”. He claims, “this is the first time that we've radically changed sanitation for literally hundreds of years”.
During the interview Gates also discussed his opinions on the US-China ‘trade war’, the upcoming US midterms and the importance of women in tech.
Full Transcript from CNN:
Q: Bill Gates, thank you very much for joining us, you are there in Beijing for the "Reinvented Toilet Expo." The expo is showcasing new, disruptive sanitation technologies. How can better toilets improve the world?
A: Today rich countries have a sewage system where you bring water in, put the human waste in it and it goes out to all the way to a treatment processing plant. That requires the installation of a lot of pipes- very expensive and it's not gonna happen in these newer poorer cities. We’ve challenged engineers to do is actually have a toilet that processes the waste by burning it in chemical treatment and getting rid of it right there inside the toilet itself.
Q: By the doing that you can save health care costs, and also save lives?
A: That's right because the rich world solution doesn't scale down, we have to take this radically new approach. So, we seven years ago found challenge universities, there were ten different ideas we funded, 5 of those are now being turned into products. We're now actually shipping those products. the very first ones are still fairly expensive. It's gonna take time before we get the volume to really take down to the low end of the market but this is how we bootstrap it, and we’ve got a lot of enthusiasm here that this can be made cheap enough that we can cover Africa- which would not happen without this breakthrough.
Q: Tell us more about some of these ideas that have turned into products, these new effective sanitation solutions that can be deployed quickly and scale across the developing world.
A: Well the toilet expo, we have the three companies that are offering products for sale. already they have hundreds of orders of those things. At first, it's a multiple-- toilet that you use in school or an apartments or community blocks. but they actually do this magic thing where they use chemical processes to completely eliminate the smell, get rid of the disease-causing characteristics, and that's because we funded those universities and made into a practical solution. you can say this is the first time that we've radically changed sanitation for literally hundreds of years.
Q: With you in Beijing, I wanted to get your thoughts on the US-China trade war. Xi Jinping and Donald Trump are talking. But it remains to be seen whether they cut a deal at the G20 later this month. What do you make of the current tension, and its impact on global growth?
A: I’m a believer in free trade so I’m hopeful that all these different trade disputes will get resolved in a way that you continue to have the best products in different countries made available to everyone.
Q: The midterms. It's about many things to many people in the US-- immigration, the economy, health care, political power. What does this midterm election mean to you?
A: Well I think when you have a mission like the Gates Foundation to help the poorest, you need to work with every government. We've had great relations with republican governments, Bush raised the aid level quite dramatically. and we'll do our best to articulate why we think any government should want a stable Africa, wanna help out those who are poorest, avoid disease spread around the world. That's what we've been up to the last two years and we'll take a look at who's in charge after this midterm and continue to work with them.
Q: You've long maintained this constructive and optimistic approach, but to many people out there it feels like it's a dark world. They look at the fear and the hate and poverty. The problems posed by terrorism and climate change. You constantly speak of solutions. I wanna ask you how do you maintain optimistic?
A: Well the objective facts that we've made incredible progress. You wouldn't want to go backwards whether it's literacy or childhood survival or how we treat people who're gay. we continue to make progress. Even the inequity, the poorer countries are growing faster than richer countries so globally we're down to less than 9 percent of people living in extreme poverty.
I often tell people they should read the book "factfulness" to really step back and not just read the headlines which naturally emphasize where we've had difficulties but to see the gradual progress that has brought childhood death from 11 million year now down to 5 million because we've got now new vaccines. if you really wanna have the model of what we're doing well, we have to step back and see objectively that we've made progress.
Q: We can make progress on issues like poverty, sanitation. What about issues like technology? Fake news. Cyberbullying. Stealth influence campaigns. In 2018, big tech firms may have issued their mea culpas for these ills, but will 2019 be a year of action?
A: Well I can't speak for all the tech firms. The benefits of these great communication technology are fantastic, yet it's not anticipated that in terms of various age groups where there's bullying or some overuse that would foster polarization or some level of fake news, the people in those consumer markets are now looking at how they can do a better job on those things. Overall, I think the tech sector hears those concerns and governments will have more requirements that they have to step up to. that's the normal dynamic that’s taking place.
Q: What about gender equality in tech? It's 2018, it's a year after the #MeToo movement. There is still harassment, lack of opportunity, lack of equal pay. What should be done to bring gender parity to the tech sector and all sectors?
A: My wife Melinda works a lot on increasing the number of women in tech related jobs. By the time you get to 5-10 years of experience, the pool just isn't nearly as balanced as it should be. We need to work on the behaviour- the practices, the role models, how we encourage women at every step of that pipeline, to get somewhat more diversity in that field.
BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE