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Dry

Last semester UWA began deployment of Desert Cubes in men’s bathrooms around campus by way of ‘experimental’ waterless urinals, and have just now started soliciting feedback on the system. As is always the case when it comes to change, and especially to matters of hygiene, there has been some initial confusion; not because of any particular reflex to hit the flush button —those were all replaced with motion sensors some years ago in a retrofitting frenzy— but because, well… they seem too good to be true. From the poster tacked on the wall above the urinal:

The urinal you are using is of the waterless type and is designed to save a most valuable resource.

Desert Cube

Each cube contains naturally occurring microbes that degrade the organic matter that odour-producing bacteria normally grow on, eliminating malodours at the source. The microbes also attach to uric scale deposits and convert them into soluble compounds, preventing unsightly stains.

Cleaning is done daily by simply pouring 5 litres of water down each urinal. Stainless steel urinals are washed down from the top as usual.

No flushing, just peeing on our tiny microbe friends. Frankly, I’m impressed. The bathrooms actually smell cleaner… whether it’s because I’ve become desensitized to the classic trough lolly odor of naphthalene or not I’m unable to tell, but the ‘citrus fresh’ fragrance of the cubes is a nice change to dampness and piss.

<sidenote>To my North American readers, chances are you have no clue as to why anyone would want a pisser that doesn’t flush. That might be because you’re accustomed to using some of the world’s most poorly-designed urinals (3.5 gallons per flush? that’s the national standard you aim for?), or it might just be that you don’t live on the driest continent in the world, but I can see where you’re coming from. Water conservation: not a big deal to you. We take it where we can get it. Note also that waterless urinals ≠ waterless toilets. Shitting is still considered a water-intensive activity.</sidenote>

The untold story, though, is that of the cleaners. What do they get out of this? Checking the literature, the end-of-day cleaning procedure is a bit more than the “rinse with water” the marketing claims, but I’m unsure whether this constitutes more of an effort than ‘the old way’ or less. By comparison, I’ve been using Enjo products around the house for a few years now, and though it’s actually more work in places than using traditional chemical cleaners it’s greatly offset by the better, cleaner, fresher results all ‘round, and the pleasant feeling you take away from knowing you didn’t just burn your hands, eyes, and nostrils with four kinds of bleach. And that’s to say nothing of the environmental impact.

Back to the topic of urinals, Richard Morhall —of campus plumbing and maintenance— is just waiting for your enthusiastic emails at rmorhall@admin.uwa.edu.au; so assuming you’re a student or at least live in Perth, I’d drop him a line and a big bravo for the planet and for the nostrils of gentlemen everywhere.