60-Second Science

Getting Everyone a Straight Flush

The World Toilet Summit, underway in Macau, looks to improve sanitation for the 2.5 billion people without hygienic toilets. Steve Mirsky reports. More info at

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]


You might think that the World Toilet Summit was a meeting of Wall Street bigwigs. But no, it’s actually about toilets. The three day conference opened on November 4th in Macau. The event brings together U.N. agencies, industry leaders, civil engineering groups and others to talk about tackling the world’s sanitation challenges, especially improving hygiene standards in developing countries. Toilet humor aside, two-and-a-half billion people still do not have access to a hygienic toilet. One of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals is to cut that number in half by 2015.

Delegates to the summit will do some hands-on learning, because state-of-the-art public toilets will serve as educational tools. The Sustainable Sanitation Pavilion showcases the latest in dry toilet technology. Also on exhibit: self-cleaning toilets, solar-powered commodes and even systems that convert waste into biogas that can be used for heating.

Global codes for toilet design are also on the table. The first initiative under discussion will look at ways to increase the traffic flow at women’s public rest rooms. That session is called Potty Parity.

—Steve Mirsky (More info at  

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