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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Kohler Gets Green Light to Develop Next-Gen, Closed-Loop Flush Toilet System

Kohler Co., developer of kitchen and bath design and technology, has received a two-year grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to design and fabricate five closed-loop flush toilet systems for field testing in developing world locations without adequate sanitation.

The grant followed a successful two-year cooperative project between Kohler and Caltech in the development of a photovoltaic toilet as part of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, hosted by the Gates Foundation.

“Our goal of creating a completely off-the-grid toileting system that is easier to transport and easier to maintain will allow us to place toilets in more locations around the world that have inadequate sanitation. And that allows us to improve the lives of more people,” said Rob Zimmerman, sustainability manager for Kohler Co.

The prototype unit developed by the Kohler-Caltech team was displayed in March in Delhi, India, at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair – a showcase of the projects funded through the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, and is currently in field-testing in India. Kohler will use the field findings to further improve the system with the goal of making it a more transportable unit. The toilet system includes a self-contained water purification and disinfection system that allows water to be reused and does not require wastewater disposal.

With the recent announcement from India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, promising through his Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India campaign) to build 100 million toilets across the country, global interest in the developing world’s sanitation conditions is higher than ever.

“There are 2.5 billion people in the world without access to adequate sanitation,” said Zimmerman. “While education is an issue, there is also need for sanitation facilities that are hygienic, cost effective, and provide an aspirational toileting experience.”

In 2011, the Gates Foundation started their Reinvent the Toilet Challenge with the intent of funding projects to address health and sanitation issues in the developing world. The program was created to design toilets that capture and process human waste without piped water, sewer or electrical connections, and transform waste into useful resources, such as energy and water, at an affordable price. The Challenge is an effort to develop next-generation toilets that will deliver safe and sustainable sanitation to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have it. The program recognizes researchers from leading universities who are developing innovative ways to manage human waste, which will help improve the health and lives of people around the world.

To date, the Gates Foundation has funded 16 research institutions across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America as part of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.

In September, at the Global Citizen Festival in New York’s Central Park, Unilever announced a commitment to help 25 million people gain improved access to toilets by 2020. The commitment is part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, contributing to the company’s goal of helping one billion people improve their health and well-being by 2020, and augmenting existing goals on providing access to safe and affordable drinking water, and education on the importance of hand-washing with soap.

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