Reinvent the Toilet Challenge: A brief history

A technician assembles a modular Eco-San toilet at the Yixing Industrial Park of Environmental Science and Technology in Jiangsu Province, China.
A technician assembles a modular Eco-San toilet at the Yixing Industrial Park of Environmental Science and Technology in Jiangsu Province, China. ©Gates Archive/Shawn Koh

In 2011, the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene program initiated the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge to spur the creation of new toilet technologies that safely and effectively manage human waste.

The initiative aims to generate innovative solutions that can protect people and communities from human waste–borne pathogens and enable governments to deliver truly inclusive sanitation services that reach the poorest communities.

These products are potentially life changing for the 3.5 billion people who lack safe sanitation, especially those living in crowded urban areas, in regions that are flood-prone, or where land, water, and resources for infrastructure are scarce.

The Reinvent the Toilet Challenge continues today and supports the development and commercialization of products that:

  • Remove harmful pathogens from human waste and recover valuable resources such as energy, clean water, and nutrients

  • Operate “off the grid” without connections to water and sewers and require minimal electricity

  • Cost less than US$.05 cents per user per day

  • Promote sustainable and profitable sanitation services and businesses in poor urban settings

  • Can appeal to everyone, in developed as well as developing nations

The initiative has resulted in more than 25 breakthrough processing components and technologies that that are available for commercialization by product and sanitation service companies. These technologies are at the forefront of a growing movement to rapidly improve sanitation while creating new, profitable sanitation markets that advance progress toward the global water and sanitation targets outlined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

Here are some key Reinvent the Toilet Challenge milestones:

  • July 2011: The foundation awards grants to 16 researchers around the world to develop reinvented toilet technologies based on innovative approaches and engineering processes.

  • August 2012: We host a two-day Reinvent the Toilet Fair at our headquarters in Seattle to showcase sanitation projects and reinvented toilet prototypes. The fair brings together participants from 29 countries, including researchers, designers, investors, advocates, and representatives from communities that could ultimately adopt these innovative approaches to sanitation.

  • August 2013: We announce Reinvent the Toilet Challenge: China, committing US$5 million to support Chinese innovators in developing and producing the “next-generation toilets.”

  • October 2013: In collaboration with India’s Ministry of Science and Technology, we launch Reinvent the Toilet Challenge: India to support sanitation research and development projects led by Indian innovators and organizations that can extend affordable sanitation services to poor communities.

  • March 2014: The second Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India is held in Delhi aimed to stimulate discussion and spur partnerships to bring safe, affordable sanitation to the 2.5 billion people who lack access.

  • November 2018: We join global innovators, development banks, corporate partners, sanitation utilities, and governments to host the first Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing. The expo features product announcements and funding commitments aimed at accelerating the adoption of innovative, non-sewered sanitation technologies in developing regions around the world.

  • 2020: We partner with South Africa’s Water Research Commission and the Department of Science and Innovation to launch the first reinvented commercial demonstration platform to pilot reinvented toilet models in school and community settings.

Additional resources

Reinvented Toilet resources
Reinvented Toilet Expo: Bejing 2018
Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India 2014
Reinvent the Toilet Fair: 2012
Reinvent the Toilet videos