Reinventing The Toilet

  • Researchers at work

This project is part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge initiated in 2011. This initiative stemmed from the realization that traditional toilets, which rely on running water, an extensive sewer network, and an expensive processing system, do not meet needs of approximately 2.5 billion people around the world. The challenge is now in its third phase and consists of 16 different research teams around the world. In 2013, India and China, in collaboration with The Gates Foundation, began their own programs as well.

The aim of all these initiatives is to create a toilet that:

  • Removes pathogens and recovers valuable resources (e.g. energy, water, agricultural nutrients)
  • Operates without connections to water, sewer, or electrical lines
  • Costs less than US $0.05 cents per user per day
  • Can be sustainably deployed by businesses in poor, urban settings

Most of the ‘improved’ sanitation systems (such as sewerage systems or ventilated pit latrines) require centralized processing that exposes populations to leaks, spills, illegal dumping, and numerous health risks.

The Centre for Global Engineering is designing a sanitation appliance to rapidly disinfect human waste on-site, hence reducing adverse health and environmental risks. Our approach is to devise a system that does not rely on centralized water and sanitation infrastructure and has the ability to reclaim value from human waste.

CGEN, with partners at the University of Western Ontario and University of Queensland is developing an onsite sanitation system that collects, disinfects, and recovers valuable nutrients from human waste streams.

Quick Facts

  • A recent Water and Sanitation Program study of cities around the globe found that, on average, only 34% of collected waste was being treated safely
  • Water, sanitation and hygiene-related deaths account for more than Aids malaria and tuberculosis combined
  • More people in India have mobile phones than toilets
  • A World Bank study in 2006 estimated economic losses attributable to inadequate sanitation at $54 billion US dollars annually
  • Almost half a billion school days are lost because of water related diseases
  • UN-Habitat estimates that 863 million people live in slums, where access to basic services such as clean water and sanitation is often severely lacking
  • About 1.5-million children die each year from diarrheal diseases caused by poor sanitation


Team Members

Yu-Ling Cheng

Principal Investigator

Mark Kortschot

Research Investigator

Stephen Sauder

Project Manager

Bill Gates

Bill Gates

Innovative solutions change people’s lives for the better… If we apply creative thinking to everyday challenges, such as dealing with human waste, we can fix some of the world’s toughest problems.