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The Case For Water Less

Retrofit Champion – Leandro Bantug, Managing Director, Design International Selections

| | Jul 30, 2010 | 2:10 pm
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Despite the misconceptions, the overall response to water-less urinals in the Middle East has been positive, says Leandro Bantug to Anoop Menon of H20 magazine

Leandro Bantug

Leandro Bantug

If Leandro Bantug, Managing Director, Design International Selections had his way, water-less urinals would be the norm rather than the exception in the Middle East. “Water resources are scarce in the Middle East, while rapid economic and population growth is driving up water demand,” he says. “In such a scenario, water-less urinal technology can play an important role in saving precious water.”

Bantug’s company represents Falcon WaterFree Technologies, one of the leading designers and suppliers of water-less urinals in the world, in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region. A conventional water-flush urinal, Bantug says, uses between one and 1.5 gallons of water per flush. But its water-less counterpart can save an average of 40,000 gallons or 151,000 litres of water each year.

Typically, water-free urinals (including Falcon) rely on a system of replaceable cartridges containing liquid sealants instead of water to flush. The cartridge acts as a drain trap while the liquid sealant seals the urine and odour within the cartridge. The main benefit of waterless urinals is the absence of water use, which means there are no flush water lines, flush valves or P-trap assemblies associated with water-flush urinals. As a result, installation and maintenance costs are also low. Since there is no water, there is no odour, either. “Odour is primarily generated when urine reacts with water and air to create ammonia oxide,” Bantug says. Further, the dry nature of the waterless urinals prevents bacterial build- up, whereas water-flush urinals are more likely to be colonised by bacteria due to the presence of moisture. Also, water-flush urinals can contaminate a rest-room through aerosols expelled during flushing.

Bantug has calculated that in Dubai, installing a waterfree urinal can save up to 30% on the cost of DEWA water, using an average price of 4.5 fils/gallon and 7,000 uses as the approximate life-cycle of the cartridge. “If we take 7,000 uses in the water-less urinal as equivalent to 7,000 flushes/ gallons consumed in waterflush urinal, our cartridge cost works out to be cheaper than the cost of 7,000 gallons of water,” he says.

In 2008, when Bantug first started to market waterless urinals in the UAE, he found the going tough. “Customers wrongly regarded the technology as dirty and less hygienic, because there was no water flow and feared that it would cause stronger odours,” he says. “Many were uncomfortable with the changing of cartridges, and doubted its efficacy in highuse environments.”

To bolster his arguments, Bantug would present clients with problems gleaned first hand from visits to their restrooms. “A common problem was water leaks caused by stuck flush valves, which resulted in constant flow of water,” he remembers. “Of course, the cleaners never reported them, and the decision-makers never got to see the problem.”

Cultural issues were another challenge. Bantug says: “One of the arguments I encountered was that urinals, as such, were incompatible with local culture. However, even a cursory survey will show you that urinals are found everywhere in Dubai, from commercial centres to hotels and shopping malls to government offices.”

To document the benefits of water-less urinals in local conditions, Bantug offered free on-site trials to customers. One of first trial projects he bagged in 2008 was the retrofit of a busy restroom inside the Dubai International Airport. The payback analysis, in this case, showed 50% savings in the annual total operating costs by retrofitting four conventional urinals with waterless ones and a payback time of 10.93 months. Another trial project, which started around the same time, culminated recently into a successful retrofit project. “We have bagged a project from Global Village to retrofit nearly 100 water-free urinals,” he says. “The project has to be completed in time for the winter carnival. They had a problem with water supply in the area; so instead of increasing the supply, they decided to reduce the demand.”

Annual savings from installation of water-free urinals depend on factors like the flush volume of replaced urinals, the number of urinal uses per day as well as water and sewer rates. “Savings from water-free urinals will be higher and payback quicker in malls and offices where the traffic is high, than in homes and villas, because more people means more water use,” Bantug says.

In a new installation, up-front savings can be realised through the elimination of water lines for flushing, flush valves, sensors and water costs. In a retrofit, operating costs that are eliminated include water charges, flush valve repair costs, pipe de-clogging costs, recurring expenses on cleaning material and electricity costs associated with pumping. However, retrofits also require some special considerations. It is very important to clean out the drain lines before fitting water-less urinals on to them. Prior uric sediment build up in the pipes can cause them to narrow and, thus, restrict flow. “Urine flow in waterless urinals relies on gravity; whereas in flushing, the urine flow is forced through the pipe,” Bantung says. “Cleaning of drain-lines is a must for any retrofit installation.” But, unlike in the US, where incorrect sloping of drain pipes and incompatible drain heights have been major issues with retrofits, in Dubai, the main problem has been incorrect cleaning and maintenance practices. “The cleaning personnel are habituated to doing things in a certain way,” he says. “But we offer training, manuals and visual aids to help them adapt quickly to water-less urinals. We have also found that adaptation is quicker if top management is driving the change.”

Bantug also blamed the prevailing economic environment for the poor state of the water-less urinal retrofit market. He notes: “With budgets getting slashed, maintaining existing setups gets priority over new installations. In some cases, our clients found it easier to get funding for installations of water-free urinals in new projects and renovations than for retrofits.” He has found that retrofits become less attractive, if the project or facility in question uses a grey-water-treatment system for flushing. If the urinals constitute a very small percentage of the total water fixtures in the facility, the savings from water-less urinals may not be noticeable in the short term.

However, from 2008 to now, awareness of water less urinals has certainly been on the rise. “Given the tight budgets, it is not so much about selling water-less urinals to clients than about showing them opportunities to cut costs and save water. But it also depends on who we are talking to,” Bantug says. “Consultants are receptive to the concept as they have seen the benefits of water-less units in North America and Europe; owners become receptive once they are educated on the longterm savings on operating costs. Facility managers, too, are opening up, because they are well aware of the problems in conventional urinals. But contractors tend to be obsessed with costs and, therefore, regard waterfree urinals as expensive substitutes for conventional water flush urinals.”

Bantug is hopeful that the launch of Green Building regulations and the growing popularity of Green Building rating systems, like LEED and ESTIDAMA, in the region will grow the market for water-less urinals. “Water less urinals also promote the water-conservation goals of the LEED Green Building Rating System,” he says. “In fact, The Bank of America building in New York City, billed as one of the most environment-friendly skyscrapers in the world, uses 200 of our urinals.”

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