Sanitation activist: 'My job is to make toilets sexy'

SEATTLE -- In the history of humankind, one invention has saved more lives than any other: The flushing toilet.

There is still much work to be done when it comes to worldwide sanitation, but people first need to be able to discuss the situation. Everyone uses a toilet six-to-eight times every day, and yet most turn into giggling 12-year-olds at the very mention of it.

One man is daring to break that taboo. Jack Sim has been called the Prince of Poop and the Dean of Dung, and he's proud to be Mr. Toilet. Sim founded a group called the World Toilet Organization, and he thinks we should all be talking more about toilets.

Sim even got movie star Matt Damon talking about it.

"Five billion people have no access to toilets. I mean, more people have cell phones than have toilets," Damon said.

He's also bringing his message to high school students, recently visiting Chief Sealth High.

"I think young people are very easy to teach and to influence because they learn very quickly," he said.

Sim was in town for Chief Sealth's annual Water Week Celebration, where students learn about water-related world issues.

"Most of our infectious diseases in the world are caused by people drinking dirty water, and most of the dirty water is caused by fecal content in the water," he said.

The problem, the way Sim sees it, is that everyone is embarrassed to talk about toilets. He hopes to change that mindset and break the toilet taboo.

"My job is to make toilets sexy, and toilets are getting sexier every year," he said.

He's convinced that unless the world can collectively get its act together, everyone will be in for big trouble in the form of worldwide disease.

"It also makes no sense to convey the (feces) using drinkable water," he said. "We have to re-invent the toilet."

The numbers are daunting: 40 percent of the world's population have no toilets, and 1.5 million kids under the age of five die every year from diarrhea. And even in developed countries, sewage systems are wasteful and inefficient.

Using humor to break down barriers and save lives, Sim takes his act to the stage whenever he can to talk about toilets.

"We have shut our minds off this subject for so long that we don't talk about it," he said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working with Sim to help reinvent the toilet. There's a $100,00 prize for the scientists who can invent a toilet that doesn't rely on piped water, a sewer or electrical hookups.

Sim will be in New York on Friday to address the United Nations.