Waterless urinals: Cheap. Green. But many think ‘gross’
Despite environmental message, many stick up their noses at eco-toilets.
Sanitary fixtures in men’s rooms don’t make for polite conversation. Nor would many people want to read about them over a morning cup of coffee.Skip to next paragraph
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But it’s Jan Aceti’s job to encourage people to think about them.
As principal of consulting firm Aceti Associates, Ms. Aceti tries to spread the word about “waterless” urinals, an environmental innovation that she hopes can ease the world’s water problems.
Fresh water is a dwindling resource worldwide. A waterless urinal saves one to three gallons of fresh water per flush, compared with a normal model, according to a 2008 report Aceti’s firm prepared for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. In an office with 1,000 men, that adds up to 1.56 million gallons of water saved annually.
This waterless message has finally started to catch on, says Aceti.
At American ballparks, airports, and tourist attractions, waterless urinals are becoming increasingly common.
Yet despite the message of efficacy and environmental stewardship, the 15-year fight to further introduce these unorthodox urinals is far from over.
Hygiene myths abound. Many hold their noses when they hear of this no-flush system. Diverting streams of urine for use as fertilizer is another tough sell. But the industry is optimistic.
He explains that the technology behind the setup is fairly simple. A biodegradable liquid sealant, such as oil or alcohol that is lighter than water, floats on top of a conventional water-filled drain.
The barrier layer, a one-way seal, allows liquid waste to flow through but blocks sewer gases from coming back up and entering the restroom. (See diagram above.)
One of the first waterless urinals, patented in Austria more than 100 years ago, involved periodic cleaning of the waste sediment. But modern, water-fed plumbing put an end to this chore.
In the 1990s, sealant-filled cartridges for waterless urinals were introduced. “Those cartridges took the ‘ugh’ factor out of the maintenance,” says Mr. Goble.
In 2006, kitchen- and bath-fixture giant Kohler Co. came up with an optimal funnel-shaped design for the bowl, eliminating the need for disposable cartridges.
“In traditional urinals, the surfaces on the inside are wet much of the time, and you get biofilms of growing organisms,” says Prof. Charles Gerba, an Arizona State University microbiologist who has researched surface contamination in public restrooms.
Flushing further creates a spray that lands on the rim and floor, creating a breeding ground for microorganisms.