Human Waste and Taboo

Often called the silent crisis, the global sanitation crisis is wrought with taboo. We avoid mentioning the toilet, using words for human excrement, sharing a toilet or even having a toilet.

There has been great progress in the last two decades to break down these taboos. A pioneer in the space, Jack Sim (aka Mr. Toilet), a man who dared to discuss toilets publicly, founded the World Toilet Organization, and even started World Toilet Day in 2001 (November 19th) – he has been breaking taboo and “making sanitation sexy” ever since. The United Nations officially recognized World Toilet Day in 2017, and the attention around this issue (and the humor) has continued to grow. In 2018, Bill Gates addressed the audience at the Reinvented Toilet Expo in China with a jar of human feces next to him on the lectern, in a bid to inspire inventors and philanthropists to get involved in creating new off-grid toilet solutions. In this act, Gates, one of the world’s leading philanthropists, and co-founder of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation signaled an end to the polite taboos that have kept the global wastewater pollution and sanitation crisis from being effectively addressed. While this is great progress, taboo still exists. The more we talk about it, the more the power of taboo is diminished. The Knowledge Hub aims to contribute to breaking taboo as a critical part of solving the problem of ocean wastewater pollution. As Mr. Toilet says, “what we don’t discuss, we can’t improve.”