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Pee and save water
March 1, 2006 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Urinate and save water at the same time. Water-free urinals in California. Is it good not to flush?
posted by dov3 (49 comments total)

 
After reading the article I went to the bathroom to pee, and counsciouly realized there's something about flushing that makes the urinal "feel" clean. Otherwise it feels like peeing in a Port-a-John
posted by dov3 at 3:04 PM on March 1, 2006


I'm sure they smell fantastic.
posted by Pollomacho at 3:06 PM on March 1, 2006


I actually used one of these urinals last weekend at an art gallery in Buffalo. I think the solution to the conscious need to make the urinal feel "clean" was represented by a little plaque above each urinal espousing the virtues of the water saved and the enviromentalism created with each turn at the john. I definitely came away feeling a little green.
posted by Bistle at 3:11 PM on March 1, 2006


There's a reason why professional plumbers avoid mechanical parts in plumbing. Mechanical parts, no matter how well-constructed, eventually fail. Compared to the simple elegance of a P-trap such a thing as this is worthless.

Also, I am indeed familiar with these kind of urinals, and yes, they really do lend a porta-potty atmosphere to any bathroom they inhabit.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:14 PM on March 1, 2006


There used to be urinals that when full, flushed. What ever happened to them? Isn't that simply the best solution for both water conservation and the cleanliness issue?
posted by Pollomacho at 3:14 PM on March 1, 2006


The union warns that poor maintenance and periodic changing of the urinals' chemical cartridges could allow dangerous sewer gases to escape. Union officials also say that without regular flushing, hazardous bacteria could build up on the surface of the urinals.

Translation: "The union is worried about their jobs and could actually not give a shit about the environment." Why can't be honest and say "I am worried about people not wasting water because it will afect my livlihood" instead of offering transparent justifications that make me embarassed for them?

They have those urinals at IKEA, too, and they're just fine.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:16 PM on March 1, 2006


There used to be urinals that when full, flushed. What ever happened to them?

I recall urinals that seemed to flush on a timer, but now I can't think of the last time I've seen that... That too, seems like a fine compromise.
posted by Robot Johnny at 3:17 PM on March 1, 2006


I don't just save water when I urinate, I make water!
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:19 PM on March 1, 2006


Actually they installed these at San Diego State University a few years ago when I was in grad. They look the same as the flush models. Not much difference at all, really. There's no odor or anything. You pee, the pee goes away, everyone's happy.

Except the Unions. Yeah, they've never gotten in the way of progress before...
posted by AspectRatio at 3:21 PM on March 1, 2006


The urinals, made by Falcon Water Free [Flash], do not smell and have no real "mechanical" parts. They are, indeed, as elegant as a p-trap (they're pretty similar, I think), and eliminate the flushing mechanism. The cartridge contains a viscous fluid less dense than urine that sits on top of the water column.

I've used them several times in the airport in Colorado Springs. They work great. I don't know the extent of the environmental impact of the cartridges, or how often they have to be replaced, but just about anything to reduce needless water consumption in the arid parts is fine by me.
posted by dilettanti at 3:30 PM on March 1, 2006


I have seen innumerable urinals simply running on, wasting hundreds (thousands?) of gallons a day per. Yes, I can put up with a tiny bit of pee smell to avoid that. Also, could we get some of those outdoor pissoirs like they have in Amsterdam?
posted by telstar at 3:31 PM on March 1, 2006


I and hundreds of other coffee-guzling filmakers put these urinals to the test for two weeks at Slamdance this year. Maybe they were cleaning them every day, but I detected no odor whatsoever.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:44 PM on March 1, 2006


Just used these for a week at Alta. They rule. No spatter. No smell. I'm thinking of installing a few on the property.
posted by docpops at 3:51 PM on March 1, 2006


Yeah, I've used these: they don't stink.

From the article: "'It's plain and simple,' says David Otterstein, business representative for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 230. 'You wash your hands when you're done using the restroom. Why would you not wash down the urinal?'"

Pretty stupid, Dave. Maybe because I'm not going to be eating with the urinal, or typing on my keyboard with it, or rubbing my eyes with it? If this is the best the plumbers can come up with....

Also from the article: "The authority is also encouraging users to install so-called 'dual flush' toilets, which use more water for solid waste, and less for liquid."

Awesome! I've seen these in Japan... they beat low-flow toilets any day of the week, in that they can actually, uh, dispose of, um, that which requires disposal...
posted by mr_roboto at 4:03 PM on March 1, 2006


"... Unions. Yeah, they've never gotten in the way of progress before."

And they say Metafilter is a bastion of liberalism.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:03 PM on March 1, 2006


We had these Falcon units in our old office building (just relocated); there was never an odor that I noticed, and they always looked as clean as any urinal does.

The new office building has the old-fashioned units. It really doesn't seem any different. I say, then, why not save the water?

Mechanical parts, no matter how well-constructed, eventually fail. Compared to the simple elegance of a P-trap such a thing as this is worthless.

I have a 50-year-old house. I just had all the incoming piping replaced, and the P-trap in my front bathroom is barely attached, because the pipe leading from it into the vertical drain pipe has rusted through most of its threads. Every type of plumbing eventually fails.
posted by davejay at 4:05 PM on March 1, 2006


One more thing...from Wikipedia:

In cases of kidney or urinary tract infection (UTI), the urine will contain bacteria, but otherwise urine is virtually sterile and nearly odorless when it leaves the body. However, after that, bacteria that contaminate the urine will convert chemicals in the urine into smelling chemicals that are responsible for the distinctive odor of stale urine; in particular, ammonia is produced from urea.

So if everyone is peeing sterile urine into one of these, and there's no standing water (no pun intended) to foster bacteria, I don't see the issue. People with kidney and urinary tract infections aside, that is.
posted by davejay at 4:09 PM on March 1, 2006


They have those in the new Life Science Building at UBC (sweet building).

They work fine as long as the cartridge gets replaced. The building was brand new and semi-open, hosting a Neuroscience convention. The maintenance staff underestimated how long the cartridges would last.

Not good.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 4:12 PM on March 1, 2006


Folks, this story is slanted deliberately against unions ("the powerful Plumber's Union"), and you're biting that hook.

What _possible_ benefit to them is there to a regular urinal over this kind? Plumbers have to install both; it's still waste, and it still goes to the same place. You have to have a plumber to hook up piping into the sewer system. And regular urinals hardly ever break. 99% of the work (and money to be made) is in putting them in, not servicing them.

And I suspect that the flushless urinals are likely to need MORE maintenance, not less, because the chemical thingie will need to be changed with some regularity, and people will sometimes forget, and will call the plumber to find out why the bathroom stinks.

There's just no self-interested reason to oppose them. If they're trying to guarantee their jobs, they should be fully behind them.

Perhaps the plumbers might just think it's a bad idea because it's a bad idea?

Shame on those who swallowed the article's slant without at least thinking about it.
posted by Malor at 4:20 PM on March 1, 2006


Shame on those who swallowed the article's slant without at least thinking about it.

You're kidding, correct? Last I checked, a flushless toilet uses, oh, about zero water. Other than that, it's zackly the same.
posted by docpops at 4:25 PM on March 1, 2006


Malor, yep. The cartidges should be changed every couple of months, when they're not changed they effing stink like hell.

Does this save water? Yep. Hurt plumbers? Nope.
posted by snsranch at 4:27 PM on March 1, 2006


At the HVAC/plumbing design firm where I used to work, and we recommended these to all our clients. Lower water bills, cheaper plumbing, LEED points - it was a no brainer.
posted by Popular Ethics at 4:29 PM on March 1, 2006


My college replaced all of their urinals with ones like these a few years ago.

All they have to do is add more fluid occasionally and replace the upper trap every once in a while when it gets clogged with sediment.

They don't stink unless they run out of fluid somehow, and then they smell extra-pissy.
posted by blasdelf at 4:30 PM on March 1, 2006


Actually there was one hangup: We couldn't get them installed in BC for the longest time because the building code said "all porcelain fixtures must be washed by water" or some such. It took a lot of convincing to get the building inspectors to allow them.
posted by Popular Ethics at 4:31 PM on March 1, 2006


The best solution I've seen is a "graywater colection system" that uses captured stormwater from the roof for non-drinking uses, such as flushing toilets.
posted by pieisexactlythree at 5:05 PM on March 1, 2006


More anecdotes: We had these installed at the Bear Mountain Arena. The water savings really add up when a thousand drunk hockey fans all want to take a piss during first intermission.

pieisexactlythree: Gray water systems are the next step up. They reduce a building's water consumption significantly (specifically the toilets), but unlike the Falcon urinals, they require (a bunch) more plumbing.
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:18 PM on March 1, 2006


In the desert Southwest, authorities are always on the lookout for new ways to conserve water.

How much water is used for decorative irrigation? Drive through any Southern California suburb and you will see lawns and gardens full of plants that don't belong in a desert. Perhaps a switch to desert-friendly plants could help too.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:19 PM on March 1, 2006


I'm part of an organization that did an enormous enviro overhaul and we installed dual-flush toilets and waterless urinals. No problems so far.
posted by moonbird at 5:27 PM on March 1, 2006


"this story is slanted deliberately against unions"

YSTLIABT*

you say that like it's a bad thing
posted by mischief at 5:27 PM on March 1, 2006


TIABT.
posted by washburn at 5:41 PM on March 1, 2006


We've got them here at Bard College, along with the informative stickers. No complaints here.
posted by thejoshu at 5:46 PM on March 1, 2006


My architecture firm has specified waterless urinals on a number of University (of CA) projects, and some of the things we hear from clients are:

1) Undiluted urine running down a waste stack can, over time, cause corrosion-related problems. A simple fix is to install a toilet "up-stack" from the urinals so that every time the toilet is flushed, it rinses down teh waste line.

2) The amount of water saved by the use of waterless urinals is not, in practice, offset by the cost of the replacement filters plus the associated labor costs.

Institutional facilities people do tend to run a bit conservative in terms of building systems, but I think there is also a bit of truth in both of the above.
posted by misterbrandt at 6:01 PM on March 1, 2006


The gym where I workout have these urinals. The basic problem is that there is no water to soften the impact of the pee. It strikes some kind of a disk at the bottom.

Now, if you're a kid (or midget) whose dick is dangling mere inches above the bottom then there will not be much splattering. But if you're say, 6 feet tall, then the piss ends up getting all over everything - including your pants.

The result is that I use the toilets which eat up even more water than a regular urinal unless I "let it mellow". When they merge environmentalism with ergonomics and a dash of common sense then perhaps I'll consider using the waterless flush.
posted by quadog at 6:02 PM on March 1, 2006


These urinals are just the thing for this guy.
posted by TedW at 6:27 PM on March 1, 2006


quadog, The Straight Dope on splashing. Or, just use a fly-on-urinal urinal...
posted by misterbrandt at 7:22 PM on March 1, 2006


The plumber's union says, 'urine trouble'.
posted by nearo at 7:35 PM on March 1, 2006


It's not as though the stuff falls from the sky!
posted by HTuttle at 8:23 PM on March 1, 2006


Huh, just had a thought - how much water is consumed making each chemical cartridge compared to how much water would have been used to flush urine?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:23 PM on March 1, 2006


"Except the Unions. Yeah, they've never gotten in the way of progress before..."

Does it occur to you that there's something fundamentally wrong with a system where technological innovation creates more unemployment rather than more leisure? Or do you not think that hard about it?

Who's the idiot here? The union plumber who cares about feeding his family, or the mefi commentator whose main concerns are the Bloodhound Gang, dog-riding monkeys and making hackneyed digs on people who have to work for a living?
posted by crabintheocean at 9:05 PM on March 1, 2006


Crab - if I was a plumber, and was threatened by technological advances, I might feel threatened.

If I was a plumber, though, I'd learn how these things work so I would know how to fix them (when they inevitably fail).

I'm speaking as a scientist who'll likely never make as much in my lifetime as an avererage plumber does in their lifetime.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:46 PM on March 1, 2006


Jeez. I've always gone by: "If it's yellow, let it mellow"... Why is this so difficult? Most plumbers I've worked with hate doing shitters and pissers. Isn't piss sterile (excepting UTIs etc)?
posted by notsnot at 9:54 PM on March 1, 2006


The union is full of shit and scaremongering - "Poor maintenance" is their bread and butter, and a urinal that doesn't have sitting water will require less maintenance than the new ones. No water means less bacteria, too.
Do I begrudge them their right to make a living? No, but they're being disingenuous.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:57 PM on March 1, 2006


"... Unions. Yeah, they've never gotten in the way of progress before."

And they say Metafilter is a bastion of liberalism.


When a union is acting more like a trade association, I have no problem treating it like one.
posted by dhartung at 12:10 AM on March 2, 2006


My point wasn't about plumbers feeling threatened by new technologies because they don't understand them.

My point is that we have a system where new technologies only benefit the very rich, and people who have to work for a living get fucked.

Ex: You work in a factory making widgets. You figure out a way to make your widgets in half the time. So now you get to go home earlier, right? No, you get to make twice as many widgets. So you get paid twice as much, right? No your boss makes everyone else use the new method and make twice as many widgets, so your boss gets paid twice as much. Does everyone get to clock out after lunch now, since all the widgets are made? No, you and half the staff get laid off, and the boss keeps your money AND gets the same number of widgets to sell.

In an economy that made some kind of sense, when a new innovation came along that reduced the amount of labor needed to do something, people would have to work less, and people in general would tend to have more and more time they didn't have to spend working. Instead, people in the US in 2006 are working more jobs for longer hours and getting paid less.

Why are people blaming plumbers for being concerned with whether or not they can make ends meet?

When did it become a plumber's job to sacrifice his own family's means of support in the name of water conservation?

Why are you criticizing the plumber? It's not his fault that his needs are set up in opposition to the interests of water conservationists. He didn't set the system up that way.

It's incredible to me that people who, before reading this article, probably didn't care enough about water conservation to turn the tap off while they brush their teeth, have now decided it's an important enough issue in the abstract to justify taking people's jobs away, and that this is so clear and obvious that the people concerned about their jobs are just being selfish for not prioritizing water conservation.
posted by crabintheocean at 6:21 AM on March 2, 2006


crabintheocean: It's incredible to me that people who, before reading this article, probably didn't care enough about water conservation to turn the tap off while they brush their teeth, have now decided it's an important enough issue in the abstract to justify taking people's jobs away...

The person quoted from the union explicitly said that it's not a jobs issue:
I can install a flushless urinal just the same as a flushing urinal. It's not a work issue. It's a public health issue," Otterstein says. "Is this the smartest thing we can think of to conserve water?"
So while your points in general about technology being used to support existing power structures are very good (although probably lost amidst a bunch of blind singularity worshipers), in this case the "union" (actually a single union official) does not seem to be concerned about waterless urinals taking people's jobs away. A plumber is still going to get paid for installing the urinal, as well as the sinks and toilets that go into the restroom.

Given that "it's not a work issue." The reasons for favoring one product over another should be called into question.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:00 AM on March 2, 2006


KJS: noted, and I wouldn't have bothered except for the folks here who seem to believe that the union is being "disingenuous" and that their only issue actually is lost jobs.

Which doesn't bother me if it's true. OMG, an organization of workers tries to protect their jobs, how dare they? The idea that they would push the public health concern in the media instead of talking only about their own jobs isn't disingenuous, it's just common sense -- you persuade people by giving them reasons to support you that are framed in terms of their own interests.

If that's disingenuous, then isn't it disingenuous to pretend that there is opposition to unions because they "stand in the way of progress," "drive up prices," "are only interested in your dues money," and any of the other things rich business owners say to try to convince working people that opposing unions is in our best interest?

Opposition to unions exists because powerful people don't want to pay workers for the work we do, and workers fight back by forming unions. That's the reason. The rest is just spin.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:12 AM on March 2, 2006


crabintheocean: Opposition to unions exists because powerful people don't want to pay workers for the work we do, and workers fight back by forming unions. That's the reason. The rest is just spin.

And to me, this ignores the issue that there are sometimes legitimate conflicts between liberal concerns. So, lets just say that it is about the jobs (I'm not certain I see how this is the case here, but lets go with it.) You still have a conflict between conservationists who don't see how population growth can be sustained in the American West with current rates of water consumption, and the mission of unions to expand the market for union labor. Certainly the left is no stranger to these kinds of conflicts in the past.

Objecting to a union's position on waterless urinals doesn't necessarily equate to opposition to unions as a whole, and trying to pigeonhole everyone into big business vs. union labor just does not work.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:32 AM on March 2, 2006


I don't think workers' priority is "expanding the market" for their labor so much as it is about protecting their jobs. You make it sound like we're talking about an organization forcing people to tear out their pipes and replace them with cardboard tubes so they'll wear out faster.

There can obviously be legitimate conflicts between issues, but that's not an excuse for people who oppose workers joining together in the first place to jump into the conversation with shit about workers standing in the way of progress.
posted by crabintheocean at 9:10 AM on March 2, 2006


In areas of water conservation, buildings should have a simple water treatment system to provide non-potable water for secondary sources. IMHO, this should be required by law. There is no reason why toilets, urinals, and even exterior spigots for plant watering should use a source that is certified EPA primary drinking water. I think that would keep conservationists and plumbers happy.
posted by JJ86 at 9:24 AM on March 2, 2006


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