Nearly a year ago, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates walked on stage holding a jar of human feces to highlight a fundamental fact of life: effective disease prevention requires adequate human waste management. Sadly, over half of all humans live without this necessity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the improper treatment and disposal of human waste from a combined 4.5 billion people worldwide has enabled the recent rise of polio, cholera, and a host of other diarrheal diseases.1 Although there have been recent advancements in water and hygiene, sanitation efforts in the realm of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) have been neglected. By highlighting the issue publicly and funding innovation, philanthropists like Bill Gates stand at the forefront of efforts to reimagine waste management in regions of the world where such practices remain nonexistent.
Lower-middle-income countries (LIMCs) are disproportionately burdened by diseases preventable with adequate WASH implementation programs: nearly 827,000 people die annually in LIMCs due to improper sanitation . Implementation of proper WASH mechanisms not only prevents the spread of disease, but also stimulates economic prosperity. The WHO reports that for every $1 invested in WASH, $4.30 is returned in the form of reduced health care costs .
Despite these efforts, funding alone cannot fully address the systematic and infrastructural challenges that remain, specifically in densely-populated urban areas — innovation must play a part. How can we reimagine waste management facilities that are low-cost and efficient? Bill Gates’ business partner, Sedron Technology, may have the answer: the Omni Processor. According to NPR, the Omni Processor can turn human waste into clean drinking water in a matter of minutes, and is capable of producing 6,000 gallons of clean water and 100-200 kilowatt hours of electricity per day.4 Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Omni Processor is its holistic approach to WASH; It both produces clean water and manages waste. The Omni Processor works by boiling solid human waste and filtering the water vapor repeatedly until it is clean. The heating of solid waste produces steam that serves as renewable energy for the machine. Even better, “any leftover electricity is funneled into the community.” 
The reimagination of waste management with the Omni Processor acknowledges that access to clean water and sanitation is a human right. Nevertheless, while the capabilities of the Omni Processor show promise, its practicality remains questionable. Unlike some inexpensive but innovative toilets showcased at the 2014 Reinvented Toilet Expo, some of which operated without water or power, the Omni Processor carries a hefty price tag of $1.5 million — though some argue that the machine quickly pays for itself.6 While the Gates Foundation has undertaken efforts to improve the Omni Processor’s affordability and reduce its size, pilot studies of the new technology in Senegal will provide information on whether the Omni Processor can help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) of universal and equitable access to safe water and sanitation for all by 2030. Though uncertain, the Omni Processor might just be a royal flush.
Osseiran, N. (2017, July 12). 2.1 billion people lack safe drinking water at home, more than twice as many lack safe sanitation. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/12-07-2017-2-1-billion-people-lack-safe-drinking-water-at-home-more-than-twice-as-many-lack-safe-sanitation.
Sanitation. (2019, June 14). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sanitation
Every dollar invested in water, sanitation brings four-fold return in costs - UN News. (2014, November 19). Retrieved from https://news.un.org/en/story/2014/11/484032-every-dollar-invested-water-sanitation-brings-four-fold-return-costs-un
Yu, K. (2018, November 9). Why Did Bill Gates Give A Talk With A Jar Of Human Poop By His Side? Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/11/09/666150842/why-did-bill-gates-give-a-talk-with-a-jar-of-human-poop-by-his-side
Poon, L. (2015, January 10). Bill Gates Raises A Glass To (And Of) Water Made From Poop. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/01/10/376182321/bill-gates-raises-a-glass-to-and-of-water-made-from-poop.
Chowdhry, A. (2015, January 22). Watch Bill Gates Sip Water Made from Sewer Sludge [Updated]. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/amitchowdhry/2015/01/10/janicki-omniprocessor/#7c18d0901a82