[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

One Innovation’s Long Journey to Rest Rooms across America

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Waterfree Urinals

Over the last few weeks, the rest rooms around the floor where I work have been renovated along with brand-new installation of sparkling beauty – water-free urinal wall fixtures.

Their curvy finish and mac-ish design make you want to use them, except there is no handle to flush. You are left to admire it from 12 inches away never having to touch it. Which is a good thing if you are apprehensive about germs spreading through the flush handles. I have used these urinals on and off in recent past, but it feels little different to use them every day. I have to get used to keeping my arms from reaching out for the flush handle!

Over the years, innovation in the toilet segment has tremendously saved water consumption. I have seen toilets with two flush handles at the top – one on each side for urinal (less gallons) flush and other for non-urinal (more gallons) use. The ultimate urinal is one with absolutely no water needed, saving millions of gallons of water per urinal per year. This is indeed an environmentalists’ dream invention. Besides, these innovators have the once popular kodak-formula for business model too. Once the urinal is installed, it will need annual replacement trap-cartridges – a container with special liquid that traps the urinal and sewage gases out of the ceramic fixture.

What I did not realize was how long and how hard it was to bring this innovation to the market. From this Wired article, “Pissing Match: Is the World Ready for the Waterless Urinal?” it likely took a decade for this innovation to reach the building I work at. Apparently, the water-free technology has been commercially available since 1991! I didn’t have a clue that plumbers, of all the people, would pose a huge threat in bringing this technology out to the masses. Apparently, plumbers felt they all would soon go out of business. That’s unlikely – the need to move water to/from every building will keep the plumbing as a profitable business for a long time to come.

One thing I am not entirely not sure is the odor. I have this awkward feeling that if you don’t flush down with water, the odor from the ceramic walls will eventually add up. It is entirely possible that ceramic will not retain any fluid traces, but who knows. Of course, time will tell soon as I use these daily.

Nevertheless, a decade and billions of water later, hip water-less urinals are finally going to adorn rest rooms across America.