Green your life at home, work & play

The Word on Urinalsuri March 18, 2010

Truthfully, I love urinals.  Not only do they shorten bathroom lines, but they also save water (as opposed to flushing an entire toilet bowl).  Additionally, any place with its own bathroom facilities looking to save a bunch of money and water could easily retrofit their existing facilities with some new hardware.

All over the world, there are many variations of the urinal and I’ve been wondering which type is the most eco-friendly.  In this post, I’m going to do a quick overview of four common variations typically found in bathrooms and based on their attributes, rank them 1 to 4, 1 being the most eco-friendly and 4 being the least.  Ready?  Set?  Let’s go!

  • The Standard/Conventional – Manual Handle:  These are the most prevalent urinals throughout America, but are slowly declining in favor of other, more convenient types.  Conventional flush valves use about 1 – 1.5 gallons of water per flush, which is quite a lot.  In addition, urinal cakes are used to eliminate odors, but are made of chemicals such as naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene, which is carcinogenic.  Their affordability sustains their popularity.
  • The Conventional Automatic/Timed Flush:  Convenience, convenience, convenience.  That’s the name of the game for these “hands off” urinals.  Armed with either a timer, which flushes periodically, or an infrared sensor to detect usage, the amount of water used per flush is still generally the same as a standard manual handle.   Possible drawbacks of auto-flush are errant flushes, the continued use of urinal cakes, and the need for batteries in the sensors.
  • The Waterless: A more recent innovation, urinals that use no water at all are beginning to sprout up in bathrooms all over the world.  Most models employ a trap insert, which is filled with a low-density sealant liquid.  The sealant floats on top of the urine collecting in the U-bend trap and prevents odors from escaping into the air.  Though the sealant liquid and the trap insert need to be replaced periodically, one waterless urinal can save anywhere from 15,000 to 45,000 gallons of water per year.  The largest disadvantage is the high initial price of each urinal, almost double that of the industry standard.
  • The Low Flow:  I suppose low flow urinals could be seen as a compromise between standard and waterless variations.  They work just like a standard urinal with a manual or automatic flush system, but the use far less water.  For example, compared to a one gallon per flush urinal used 26,000 times per year, a “Pint Urinal” (0.125 gallons per flush) can save around 23,000gallons per year.  Low flow urinals have the highest initial cost, but the lowest operating cost.

The Rundown:  And the results are in!  Based on a brief smattering of details and specs, the rankings begin at number 4, the least eco-friendly urinal out of the lot.  This grade goes to the Conventional Automatic/Timed flush urinal.  Not only does it use a great deal of water and urinal cakes, but it also uses batteries or electricity to run the auto-flush mechanism.  Tisk, tisk.

In third place is the Standard Manual Handle urinal.  Like the auto-flush, it uses a lot of water for flushing, but due to the manual operation, there are no errant flushes, no batteries or electricity used, and flushing can be conserved by discretion of the user.

The battle for the top two spots was close, and ultimately, economics was the final tipping point.  Second place belongs to the Low Flow urinal.  It uses a lot less water per flush, but its cost is the highest of the four types of urinals.  And finally, first place for the most eco-friendly urinal goes to the Waterless urinal! (Pause for applause, cheers)  It uses no water so it is perfect for arid and water-strapped places and the sealant liquid is made of non-toxic ingredients.  Its initial cost is higher, but the water saved over the first year can easily be enough to pay off the initial cost.

And there you have it!  The confusing world of urinals is now a little less cryptic.  I hope you learned something and are considering the move toward more eco-friendly bathroom equipment.  For the women who are feeling left out, I’m sorry, but there hasn’t really been a female urinal invented that has gained much popularity…I can’t say I blame you!


The Word on Wastewater March 11, 2010

There’s no way around it.  Water is vital to human life and its scarcity should scare us enough to conserve it…yet we don’t.  In light of this conundrum, there are many terms used in the water conservation arena that are not exactly self-explanatory.  For instance, there has been confusion over what greywater and blackwater actually is and what applications, if any, are there.   Well buckle your seatbelts and hold on to your Brita filter because we’re about to jump headfirst into the wonderful world of dirty water.

Definitions – Just like Websters:

Greywater is classified as wastewater generated from most domestic activities such as laundry, dishwashing, andbathing.  Its etymology stems from the cloudy, semi-opaque appearance of the neither fresh, nor polluted water.  Similarly, blackwater is also wastewater, though it distinctly contains fecal matter and/or urine.  It is also referred to as brown water, foul water, or just sewage.  Eco-philosophy separates the two wastewaters in efforts of reducing the amount of water that ultimately becomes polluted.

Applications-You can do what, with what?

In most cases, blackwater is strictly off limits once it is conceived.  Greywater on the other hand has a wide range of uses and benefits.  Because of the low levels of contaminants present, greywater can be reused to irrigate plants and flush toilets, among many other uses.  Of course, to what degree your water can be reused depends on the components you release into it.  It’s also a good idea to check up with what the government is saying about greywater and some tips or strategies they may have for the public, even if the government is Australia’s.

Due to blackwater’s potentially dangerous materials, it must be treated and processed before it can be released safely into the environment.  All of this can theoretically be avoided by utilizing a composting or vermicomposting toilet, which safely composts your waste.  Additionally, not only are you saving precious water resources (up to 20-50%), but you are also blessed with nutrient rich fertilizer!

So there you have it!  (Cue music and “The More You Know” graphic)  That’s everything you’ll need to know to get started on your wastewater odyssey, and if we all work together to protect the environment, there’s no telling what we can accomplish.


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