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Tech by VICE

Why World Toilet Day Matters

Six stories that show how toilet tech can help improve the health of billions of people.

by Kaleigh Rogers
Nov 19 2014, 6:00pm

​Image: ​Flickr

​ World Toilet Day, as immaturely humorous as it sounds, is pretty serious business for people around with world without access to clean toilets. According to the United Nations, 1 billion people around the world are forced to defecate outside, many of them in the streets with no privacy.

It's dehumanizing and it causes a host of health issues, from diarrhea to polio, cholera and typhoid. World Toilet Day aims to raise awareness about the need for clean bathrooms for every person on the planet. (Check out the UN's campaign to stop open defecation to learn more.)

To mark World Toilet Day, here's a look at some of the best scatalogical science and toilet technology of the last year:

Re-inventing the toilet

Technological developments can lend a huge hand in helping to give everyone access to sanitary bathrooms. The Reinvent the Toilet campaign grants funding to engineers building the next generation of toilets that will turn waste into energy or water, operate off the grid, be cost efficient and give a sustainable option to people in developing nations. One team that previously scored a grant from the Reinvent the Toilet campaign has developed a toilet ​that uses concentrated solar power to scorch and feces to turn it into a sanitary charcoal byproduct used in agriculture. 

Their prototype could even generate clean water and provide a phone-charging station, solving a litany of problems with a single flush.

The impact of sanitation

In case it's not clear how important sanitation is for a community's public health, just take a look at this devastating case s​tudy from the slums of the Indian city of Surat, where the lack of sanitation spreads disease and the community's poorest citizens are blamed for outbreaks.

Tweets and toilets win an election

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was elected this spring with the second-highest voter margin in the country's history. While his camp​aign drew attention for its use of social media and high tech tricks like projecting holograms of himself at rallies, Modi's platform focused heavily on sanitation, a major issue in many areas of the country.

Print your own pooper

As 3D printers become more efficient and affordable, big t​hinkers are coming up with creative ways to use them to help developing nations with issues like sanitation. One team envisions 3D printers giving communities the ability to build the things they need most, like a composting toilet.

Poo-powered smartphones

We may some day be able to charge our smartphones through the power of poo, according to a repo​rt released this week from the University of East Anglia in England. In the right conditions, bacteria produce electrons when they derive energy through "breathing" minerals of iron. Those electrons, researchers discovered, can then hop across proteins in the bacteria and be collected as an electrical charge.

The scientists were studying proteins found in Shewanella, a bacteria found in poo.

Lead researcher Professor Julea Butt (we know, we know) said the discovery was a big leap towards being able to harness this natural energy to power bio batteries for our phones and computers.

"This is an exciting advance," she said in a press release. "We hope that understanding how this natural process works will inspire the design of bespoke proteins which will underpin microbial fuel cells for sustainable energy production."

Tokyo's tech toilets

This summer and fall, Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo held an exhi​bit of weird, wired and kind of scary toilets. The exhibit had the noble objective of educating the public on the history and future of the toilet and its impact on global sanitation. That said, it also included a toilet choir and giant commode that visitors could slide into dressed as a human-sized turd. For some reason. 

Permission to pee

This isn't directly related to toilets, per se, but here's some good news for those of you that treat pools like one: the American Chemical Society says  ​it's a-okay to pee in the ocean. Pee freely, friends. 

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