5 Reasons World Toilet Day is Awesome

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. A child stands by the latrines."
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. A child stands by the latrines." / Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. A child stands by the latrines."

40% of the world's population doesn't have access to clean, private toilets. World Toilet Day (November 19) is an occasion to show that we give a shit. This year, 210,000 people (and counting) plan to mark the occasion. Why? Here are five surprisingly fun reasons that World Toilet Day is awesome.

1. "Mr. Toilet" is Totally Rad

Jack Sim goes by "Mr. Toilet." He left the business world to found the WTO—no, not that one, the World Toilet Organization—in 2001. Starting that year, Mr. Toilet declared November 19 "World Toilet Day," and since then has been on a mission to bring sanitation to people in developing countries.

I urge you to drop what you're doing and watch this short video about Mr. Toilet. Yes, he says "shit" a lot. And it's awesome.

Meet Mr. Toilet | Jessica Yu from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

In addition to founding the World Toilet Organization and establishing World Toilet Day, Mr. Toilet is working to convince the world to abandon flush toilets, because they waste water. Sim reminds us that flush toilets waste up to 22 liters of water every day. Something to think about next time you debate whether to "let it mellow."

2. Poop Can Be Profitable

Sanergy developed the "Fresh Life" toilet system. It's an end-to-end business model, rather than simply a toilet. The model involves building toilets in areas where they don't exist now, partnering with local franchise owners (who own and operate the toilets), collecting the waste (human waste is actually a commodity if treated properly), and converting the waste into fertilizer and energy. The net result is more toilets, more fertilizer, improved health, and a sustainable business model.

So far, Sanergy has provided 10,879 daily users access to proper sanitation. They have also removed 1,234 metric tons of human waste from communities. Because of this work, they won this year's Sarphati Sanitation Award. There's a 24-minute presentation explaining the process in detail, or here's a 5-minute video from a year ago showing the basics (their impact has increased since this video was made):

3. There's a Urine-Powered Cell Phone

Scientists have developed a way to convert urine into electricity in order to power a phone. Using a microbial fuel cell—effectively a tiny biological reactor that eats urine and spits out electrons—scientists have harnessed enough energy to power a cell phone. The research is published, though there's no product commercially available yet. The team plans to create a "smart toilet" in 2-3 years. The vision is that a USB plug next to the smart toilet would provide power to charge your phone overnight ... assuming you provide sufficient urine, of course.

Here's a video showing how the process works in the lab, including a Samsung cell phone that's powered by the urine bioreactor:

4. ...And a Toilet Bike

Photo courtesy of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Marcos Fioravanti and Chris Canaday created a prototype toilet powered by a bike-style foot pedal. Called the "Taladro de la Tierra" (translated, "Earth Auger"), the toilet doesn't use water; it's a "urine-diverting dry toilet" (UDDT to those in the business) that separates urine and feces at the source. The user then turns a crank (in some prototypes, a bike pedal), which powers an auger to combine the poo with sawdust. This creates compost, which is ultimately turned into fertilizer.

You can watch a 13-minute presentation on the toilet, delivered at the Second International Conference on Faecal Sludge Management. Yep, that's a thing.

5. You Can Plan a "Mass Squat" to Help Out

One of the easiest ways to spread awareness of the need for toilets is to plan a "Mass Squat." This is a group activity that doesn't take a lot of organizing. You get a group of friends together and, at the appointed time, squat for one minute. The idea is to spend that minute thinking about the 2.5 billion people who do not have access to basic sanitation.

If that's one squat too many for you, check out WASH United’s Celebrate the Toilet campaign, which allows you to write on a virtual bathroom wall.  You can also share your toilet-related message using the World Toilet Day's "I Give a Shit" feature!

Don't miss the 2011 Official Song of World Toilet Day, including an animated cardboard toilet paper roll singing about various toilet-related things: