In waterless urinals, a seal made from a light imiscible oil floats over a trap. Image: Wired
Four years ago, Local 690 of the Philadelphia Plumbers Union caused outrage in the green world by refusing to install waterless urinals in the Comcast center because they didn't need water supply lines, reportedly because "fewer pipes mean less work." A deal was finally cut with the union where they would install the water supply pipes but wouldn't connect them.
No Splash, No Flush Urinals from Kohler
The union denied that it was a make-work demand, but was good planning, that would "allow for conversion to flush urinals if there are problems with the waterless ones."
A big round of union-bashing followed, which continues to this day; but we learn from Shari Shapiro that they may have been right.
Now the City of Chicago is ripping the waterless urinals out of City Hall. Evidently the undiluted pee is strong enough that it has corroded the copper plumbing, and the smell of urine has spread to the Councillors' offices on the next floor up. So even though each one saved 50,000 gallons of water each year, out they go. But the problem isn't just copper plumbing, it's people. Environment Department spokesman Larry Merritt notes that they were misused:
"While we don't know for certain, anecdotal evidence has pointed to the heavy traffic, combined with the disposal of additional liquids, such as juice, coffee, etc. being poured down the urinal drain that caused issues that were unforeseen."
The same thing happened at O'Hare airport.
"The pipes clogged with fluids," Aviation Department spokesperson Karen Pride said. "The cartridges placed in the urinals to abate odor failed prematurely as people poured coffee and chemicals in the urinals and destroyed the plastic."
Shari Shapiro concludes "When new technology meets old infrastructure--be it copper piping or entrenched union interests--the results can be...stinky." She asks "Who is at fault for causing the waterless fixtures to fail? The installers? The architect? The owner/user?"
I think the answer is clear; it is us. We have used toilets and the sewer system to get rid of everything, a universal dumpster to wash away all our wastes, shifting our problems to our rivers and lakes. We just don't think about the implications of what we put in it because it goes....away. The waterless urinal is designed for urine, period, and would probably work just fine if that is what went into it.
I think that everyone should have to live with a composting toilet for a month, dealing with their own waste, being personally responsible for what goes in and what comes out. They would look at their toilet and urinal very differently.