Hey Silicon Valley: why don't you disrupt TOILETS?

Many millions of people still have no sensible toilets. Millions of others play with 21st century smartphones, while sitting on 19th century toilets. Progress this is not.

Hey Silicon Valley: why don't you disrupt TOILETS? /img/frog-in-toilet.jpg
Sitting on 19th century tech? No problem with that. If it is tech that WORKS, of course


“It is hard to find something that we actually got right in the modern bathroom. Especially in the toilet. We flush it and send bacteria into the air, with our toothbrush in a cup a few feet away. We take millions of gallons of fresh water and contaminate it with toxic chemicals, human waste, antibiotics and birth control hormones in quantities large enough to change the gender of fish.”

The output of modern bathrooms? “contaminated water, questionable air quality and incredible waste. We just can’t afford to do it this way any more”.

Hey Silicon Valley: why don't you disrupt TOILETS? /img/clean-water-and-you-shit-in-it.jpg

More details than you would like to know, and the fascinating history of how we got it so wrong, with more details than you would probably like to know, are in Why the modern bathroom is a wasteful, unhealthy design. That 2014 article goes on to note that:

“if we are going to do something about the incredible waste of water that is the modern bathroom, radical changes may be required. A lot of Britons are proud of going net-zero or off-grid with their electricity and energy supply; it’s time to consider going off-pipe too.” But “you’re not net-zero if you are flushing your waste into the sewer”.

“We are idiots to not sell our poop”

The Guardian piece concludes that:

“In a world where we are running out of fresh water, making artificial fertilizer from fossil fuels and approaching peak phosphorus, it is idiotic and almost criminal that we pay huge amounts in taxes to use drinking water to flush away our personal fertilizer and phosphorus and dump it in the ocean. In the future, they should be paying us.”

Time for real innovation

That Guardian article is now 4 years old, and it surely is not the first to make certain proposal. Still, from the day it was written, Silicon Valley, all its other emulators around the world,and all their investors, have wasted infinitely more time and money to produce “Uber for [some First World Problem]” or absolute crap like Juicero, “smart” water bottles or Tappslock (dear God, Tappslock!!!).

It is way more important, and very likely a good investment too (even if Open Source as it must be), to fund development and production of:

  • a “dry toilet” with the “specs” below
  • community services and platforms (cooperatives?) to collect and reuse toilet waste. No rocket science here, “Uber for poop” is already being evaluated in Senegal

Toilet “specs”

(this is just a conceptual description, of course. No space or resources to do more in one blog post. But please contact me to tell me your opinion, or point me to promising projects of this kind)

The toilet should:

  • be a “next generation” version of the projects listed here,,,
  • be an acceptable, actually installable drop-in replacement of existing toilets:
  • in ordinary bathrooms of ordinary condominium apartments
  • without separate containers for ashes, sawdust or any other filler
  • “output” small, wrapped “bricks” of… produce, that may even be temporarily stored in a dedicated, odor-proof trashcan for a few days, until the “Uber for poop” service comes to collect them
  • be Open Source. It is essential that it can be installed everywhere, as soon as possible, as cheaply as possible

Basically, this toilet should be, unlike models like the left one, something as clean, easy and cool to use as… the device on the right (*):

Hey Silicon Valley: why don't you disrupt TOILETS? /img/nespresso-toilet.jpg

This is the kind of innovation that I’d like to see as soon as possible out of Silicon Valley (or everybody else, of course): a Nespresso-like toilet. Something you just “charge” with small capsules of sanitizer, enzhymes, or similar, and when it’s full, press the lever to take away the finished product. Whoever does that first, will make a huge service to society, and probably (pun needed here, sorry) a s**tload of money too. Even if it Open Source, as it needs to be. Maybe especially because it is Open Source.

(*) Image sources: Appropedia and Cuisinart