It’s all too easy to forget, in this age of iPhones and the like, that there’s a lot of stuff out there in the world which is ugly, pointless, or doesn’t work (or, indeed, all of those things). And so welcome to the first in a projected series of posts intended to shed light on folly in design, whilst giving me an opportunity to rant and rave and possibly even swear. Oh yes.
First up is an item of which I have some experience, but which may be an entirely new item in the eyes of my female readers: the waterless urinal.
It sounds like a joke, but I promise you such things exist – as you can see from the picture above, they’re designed without the need for water to rinse out the bowl from an overhanging auto-rinse sump bar or similar. This is because the bowl contains a filtration layer designed to remove the carbamide (or urea) from the urine – and urine is, of course, predominantly water. The water then passes on to the usual outflow pipe. The filters need to be cleaned with specialist foams or sprays, and occasionally replaced.
As you can imagine, the waterless urinal has been quite popular; it uses less water than a standard urinal, so it’s both more environmentally friendly, and cheaper to run (a major reason, I’d guess, why the last two places I’ve worked have had them installed in the gents). Despite its environment- and money-saving credentials, though, waterless urinals are ideally placed to kick off the Unintelligent Design series of posts on my blog for one very simple reason, and that is (drum roll)
They don’t work.
Well, perhaps I’m being unfair, and all of the ones ever made and sold apart from the five I’ve encountered (three in the previous workplace, two in the present) work perfectly well, but that’d not really very likely, is it? As it is, the waterless urinals I’ve come across all block up in a frankly unsightly manner, though that’s not the worst of it – far, far more unpleasant is the smell. It’s the smell of urine and chemicals – the sort of odour that you might smell in a grotty underpass, or pick up a whiff of as you pass the doorway of a shop that’s closed but unfortunate enough to be close to a pub at chucking-out time on Saturday night. In short: rank.
As I say, these urinals get blocked up, and this appears to be because the plughole at the base is made of some sort of plastic, which starts to rot because of constantly being deluged with urine of varying density, and I’d guess that the urea and other discharged minerals cause it to decay. This, combined with the fact that some people don’t just pee into the urinals, but also spit and shed pubic hair into the bowl, means that the plug starts to clog with a number of unplanned-for items, so the urine doesn’t pass through as expected, and starts to hang around and smell. Oh, and I’d respectfully suggest that the frequency of application of the appropriate cleaners, and replacement of the filters, should probably take place more often than the manufacturers let on when giving estimated running costs.
The upshot of all this? In essence, gents toilets which smell as if they contain day-old buckets of piss, and urinals which are clogged with pubes and puddles of slowly-darkening urine. Lovely. Granted, it does save money for the organisations that install them – in the short term, at least, I don’t know about having to call in the engineers or other facilities management folks – but I think the environmental credentials are pretty arguable, what with the filters that have to be replaced and thrown away, and the chemicals which are introduced into the environment generally.
Don’t think I’m some sort of toilet snob here; I’ve trekked up mountains and roughed it and used toilets that were little more than holes in the ground, and I know that when you need to go, you need to go, but we’re not talking about an item for emergency use – the waterless urinal is something that has been thought about, designed, manufactured and sold for use, and in my experience it’s far from fit for the purpose.
Frankly, I wouldn’t cross the road to wee on one if it was on fire. Though chances are I could smell it from that distance anyway.
Have you been affected by any of the issues covered, or the references to effluvium and excreta, in this post? Do you think the waterless urinal is the greatest invention since the solar-powered tamagochi? Or would you like to share your experiences of urinating into a modern toilet such as the she-inal? If so, then please contact our team of researchers by clicking the comment button below. And for god’s sake aim straight, whether ye be man or woman.