On a recent weekend, as I lazily sifted through the dense chatter on Twitter, I stumbled upon a quiz called “The Ultimate Waterless Urinals Challenge". It sounded intriguing, so I clicked and went onto complete all the 20 questions. (That I should spend my limited leisure doing quizzes on toilets is baffling, but never mind.) Turns out the topic was quite germane to that week, which culminated in Earth Day last Sunday. Waterless urinals were invented by Klaus Reichardt through the company he founded, Waterless Company, Inc., based in San Deigo. Although invented way back in 1991, they have become more prominent now due to higher environmental consciousness.

So why are earth-loving environmentalists advocating these contraptions for home, office and public places? For the following reasons:

• Most importantly, of course, to save water. A normal urinal is estimated to use between 4 and 8 litres of water per flush, depending on the kind of plumbing system and age of the building. This is its strongest appeal which is making governments and corporate entities all over the world consider them seriously, especially in regions of water shortage. According to a 2010 mandate, all new urinals in the US Army have to be waterless.

• Waterless urinals produce less bacteria than flushing. Urine is sterile when it leaves the body but produces bacteria when it mixes with water. The flushing process throws up a whoosh of bacteria which sticks to walls and anything else in the bathroom. Waterless urinals hence are a dream product for germophobes.

Shyamal Banerjee/Mint

The technology is Korean and the only Indian company offering this is Delhi-based AG Aqua Solutions, whose owner Siddharth Aggarwal saw this urinal at the Beijing Olympics, thought it was a great product to bring back home and entered into a partnership with the Chinese manufacturer. AG Aqua Solutions supplied 500 waterless urinals to the municipal authorities of Delhi, prior to the Commonwealth Games, which are fitted in different public places, and has also installed them in the offices of various blue chip companies across India. Aggarwal says all the sales are to the commercial and industrial segments as no home in India has as yet installed such a urinal. This is only a mindset because in the US, the Waterless Company has introduced a smaller, cheaper model called Baja urinals for the home claiming that if there are two males in the house, the waterless urinal can save 3,250 gallons of water per year. (www.waterless.com).

But why haven’t waterless urinals taken off in a big way even in the commercial segment? Why hasn’t it taken the construction world by storm?

Firstly, because the initial cost is higher than that of normal urinals. A normal one costs between Rs7,000 and Rs10,000, while a waterless one costs double. But it works out cheaper when you consider the savings in water and electricity required to pump up the water into the overhead tank. The website www.savewater.co.in shows the calculation. Many manufacturers are competing in this sector worldwide, driving prices down.

Second, they are seen as high-maintenance. People fear that they may need to bleach the urinal everyday to keep it odour-free, but advocates say that’s an exaggeration. It needs some maintenance, of course, like replacing the sealant or cartridge every few months, if it is a urinal using those technologies.

Thirdly, many are put off by them as they perceive them to be unhygienic. The thought that the urine is not getting washed off with water is hard to accept. (One man on Twitter said that he’d rather die of thirst when the planet has no more water left than install waterless urinals.)

But, despite the naysayers, in a world where water is scarce, the demand for waterless urinals is expected to move north. So, if you are in a position to influence the kind of urinals your workplace can have, you might want to consider these devices, because going green is becoming a priority for a growing number of establishments. Further, as a tax-paying citizen, you can take an informed view of whether your local corporation made the right decision in spending your money and providing these fixtures to you at public places like airports. And many corporations are experimenting with waterless urinals. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) installed them at the Gateway of India through Falcon, a company in California, in 2009 (www.falconwaterfree.com) The same company was employed by the Chennai municipality, two years ago to convert seven normal urinals in Ripon building to waterless ones using cartridge technology. In 2008, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRD) installed the edgy nano-coated ones in 11 metro stations. So, you see, they are catching on and getting test-piloted in several places.

The last word on this goes to a friend whom I mentioned the topic of this week’s column to. “But most public urinals in India are waterless anyway," he said wryly. “There is typically no water to flush them."

Vandana Vasudevan is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and writes on mass urban consumer issues. Your comments are welcome at toughcustomer@livemint.com

Also Read | Vandana Vasudevan’s earlier columns

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