Moscow Hosts World Toilet Summit

This story was writen by CBS News Moscow bureau chief Beth Knobel
Just outside the Kremlin, there's a high-level conference going on this week that affects us all: the World Toilet Summit.

It's been organized by the WTO — the World Toilet Organization — a very serious group that is flush with ideas on how to improve sanitation.

"The World Toilet Organization is the voice for a subject that has been neglected for so long," says WTO founder Jack Sim. "The World Toilet Summit is creating a revolution, because people were not talking about toilets before."

He says that about 200 delegates have focused their talks on a number of issues, including how to induce the construction of more restrooms, improving sewage treatment and fighting diseases that can be spread via lavatories.

In general, the non-profit organization to influence governments and companies on a wide range of questions related to toilet usage and standards. It also sponsors World Toilet Day every November 19.

Toilets are a subject that may make people giggle, but it's heady stuff ... as serious as the subjects raised by that "other" WTO, the World Trade Organization.

"Have you ever wondered why we made the acronym WTO? We use humor to propagate our message," explains Sim, who was a businessman in Singapore before founding the group. "When people are inhibited, to break the ice, you make them laugh. After they laugh, then they are listening and eventually they become serious. And they take action."

The average person spends about four years of their life in the bathroom. Exhibits at the summit show there are plenty of ways to make that quality time.

There are handmade toilet paper holders that play music. One of them has male and female figurines on top, who come together to kiss as the toilet paper is ripped.

The music? The theme song to the movie "Love Story."

Another of the toilet paper holders features miniature soccer players — and as the toilet paper is pulled down, a small toy ball goes into a soccer net.

The exhibit also features a Japanese commode which comes with its own remote. The remote control can make the toilet flush, make its seat go up or down, or make a retractable bidet attachment pop out from the wall of the bowl. The toilet's cost? More than $6,000.

There are also high-tech public toilets. One freestanding cabin is made of silvery metal and is shaped like a space capsule. Another toilet unit on display has two fake marble bowls attacked to a giant metal box. The bowls spin around so that once can be retracted and disinfected as the other is used.

World Toilet Summits have been held each year since 2001.

Moscow is a good place for the meeting because, in this department, Russia still has a long way to go to catch up with the West. About a third of Russian homes still have an outhouse. And as for public toilets, port-a-potties are state of the art.

Russia has few public restrooms. But at least people who hear the call of nature can now use the plastic portable toilets that have been set up recently in many public spaces. For example, just outside Red Square, there are a number of port-a-johns that can be used for 10 rubles (about 35 cents).

In fact, more than 40 percent of the world's population — more than 2½ billion people — lacks indoor plumbing.

That means the work of the WTO isn't likely to go to waste.

By Beth Knobel