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A brief history of toilets - Francis de los Reyes


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On sunny days, citizens of ancient Rome could be found exchanging news and gossip while attending to more urgent business at the public latrines. Today, most cultures consider trips to the restroom to be a more private occasion. But even when going alone, our shared sewage infrastructure is one of the most pivotal inventions in human history. Francis de los Reyes shares the history of the toilet.

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Toilets are just a component of the sanitation service chain that includes the human user interface (the toilet), collection, transport, and treatment. Ideally, there is also a reuse/recycle system that can convert the waste to resources or energy, or clean water. The individual “links” in this chain may differ. For example, in a toilet that is connected to a sewer system and centralized wastewater treatment facility, only the toilet (user interface) is visible to the common person; sewer pipes and the treatment facility are hidden from the public. In a household with a pit latrine, the homeowner has to pay someone to empty the pit when it is full. Then the pit contents have to be transported to a facility, usually on a vehicle.

So having a toilet is not enough- there is an entire infrastructure behind safe management of human wastes. In many places around the world, this infrastructure is not present. Sanitation, while a basic human right, is often not high up on the list of government priorities. This has led to the dismal state of sanitation globally: about 670 million people still practice open defecation (where they “go” behind bushes, on riverbanks, near railroad tracks). As shown in the video, almost 2 out of three people in the world don’t have access to toilets at home that fully manage excreta.

In addition, how societies view toilets and sanitation are affected by religious beliefs, culture, government policies, costs, education, and behavior. Thus, solving the global sanitation crisis is not just having the right technology, or enough money: it needs to include changing government policies, addressing culture, changing behavior- making this a multi-faceted challenge. The goal should be sustainable sanitation for all- access to functional, affordable, reliable, safe, and equitable sanitation that protects public health and the environment.

Francis de los Reyes has a TED talk on sanitation.The Reinvent the Toilet Challenge by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Francis de los Reyes
  • Director Igor Coric
  • Narrator Jack Cutmore-Scott
  • Storyboard Artist Igor Coric
  • Animator Igor Coric
  • Compositor Igor Coric
  • Art Director Igor Coric
  • Music Nikola Radivojevic
  • Sound Designer Nikola Radivojevic
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Production Coordinator Abdallah Ewis
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Fact-Checker Jennifer Nam

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