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Waterless Urinals:A New Paradigm in City Sanitation

For a developing country like India–marked by multi-dimensional demographics, highly diversified socio-economic patterns and population of over one billion–civic sanitation is a perennial issue. Water plays a pivotal role in keeping any city clean and hygienic, but with increasing shortage of this precious resource, city municipalities across India are finding it difficult to adhere to the stipulated standard of cleanliness.

A major portion of the water supplied by civic authorities to households, commercial establishments and industries, goes down the drain by way of flushing in toilets and urinals (See table below). A conventional urinal in India uses an average of 3-5 litres of water per flush, which amounts to substantial water wastage. Besides, lack of disciplined use of water causes sanitation problems which are difficult to control.

The problem of water wastage and hygiene in toilets and urinals is being effectively tackled in many foreign countries by way of waterless urinals. According to a research paper presented by Centre for Rural Development & Technology and IIT, Delhi, waterless urinals go a long way in preventing spread of diseases and saving anywhere between 56,800 litres to 1,70,000 litres of water per urinal per year.

Realising the immense potential of waterless urinals, civic authorities of cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chandigarh, Triruchirapalli and Pimpri Chinchwad have installed them at public places and office premises. However, the ambit of operation still remains very limited as the concept is yet to gain acceptance by general public.


Waterless urinals entails a simple yet advanced technology for collection and disposal of waste. Unlike the conventional urinals that guzzle up gallons of water and emit bad smell if not maintained on regular basis, these urinals are odourless and remain clean and dry irrespective of the number of times they are used daily. Water flush urinals produce moisture in the environment providing favourable conditions for germs to thrive. Whereas, waterless urinals remain dry between uses and therefore are hostile to bacteria and viruses. Moreover, these urinals are touch-free, which reduce the scope for the spread of communicable diseases.

For best results, the urinals need to be used strictly in the manner prescribed – something that Indian users fail to adhere to. Take for example the city of Tiruchirapalli, a renowned city in Tamil Nadu which sees an overwhelming number of people from all over India visiting it daily. The city therefore faces immense water wastage problem and sanitation issues including maintaining the community urinals and toilets at the city central bus stand. The city Municipal Corporation replaced all the conventional urinals to waterless urinals at the central bus stand. “It’s been a year since the authorities installed 20 urinals at a cost of 20,00,000, but even today, people do not use these toilets the way they should be,” says S Raja, City Engineer.

“There is nothing wrong with the design of these waterless urinals. It is just that the concept is new to India where most of the people are used to the traditional flushing system. There are instructions displayed above these new urinals listing do’s and the dont’s. But still not everyone follows the written instructions,” complains S. Raja.

Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) installed waterless urinals only at its main office building and not ventured into public places since the authorities are afraid that the users would damage the facility due to ignorance and lack of supervision. This may result in failure of the urinal to function properly, forcing the authorities to incur expenses on repairs.

The civic authorities responsible for maintaining the ‘health’ of the cities are not finding enough support from the public at large in their endeavour to move on from conventional urinals to waterless urinals. It is important that the usefulness and importance of waterless urinals in everyday life is understood by people sooner than later so that the civic authorities feel inspired to take their efforts forward.

Explaining the situation, the Executive Health Officer of PCMC, Rajaram Chavan says, “We have replaced all the 66 traditional urinals with waterless urinals in the main PCMC building and are planning to do the same in other buildings owned by the Municipal Corporation. However, we have refrained from doing the same at public places because of lack of awareness amongst users. Waterless urinals demand certain prescribed manner of usage to ensure longevity.”

According to Chavan installing waterless urinals in the PCMC building has proved to be very beneficial in the sense that besides saving water there has been a marked improvement in sanitation levels also. “This is good for the image of the corporation which is being visited by many high profile people round the year.”

Delhi has almost 1000 waterless urinals installed across the length and breadth of the city, thanks to the 2010 Common Wealth Games. The urinals are put up at places like Indira Gandhi Stadium, Raja Garden, Ashok Vihar, Prashant Vihar, Old Delhi Railway station, New Delhi Railway Station and Kailash Colony. These however, are lying almost unattended and unused due to lack of required maintenance.

Waterless Toilets: A Long Shot

The idea of installing waterless urinals has found very limited success because the Corporations are wary of taking the risk of replacing community urinals with waterless urinals. But what about toilets? Replacing conventional community toilets with waterless ones would indeed add to the benefits. While the idea seems to be encouraging, the Corporations seem to be dithering on embracing the change.

“Replace the toilets is a costly affair,” says Chavan. “While the cost of installing one waterless urinal is `18,000-19,000, the cost of installing one waterless toilet is much more taking into consideration the high degree of plumbing and masonry work involved.

How it Works

Waterless urinals, by their very nature, require no water to function, and are therefore ideal for places where there is huge generation of wastewater and inadequate wastewater treatment plants. They can be installed with ease in urban as well as rural areas to conserve energy and wastewater production. Waterless urinals facilitate collection of urine from homes and public toilets for use in industries and agriculture after treatment.

Most of the waterless urinals use gravity and a specially designed trap filled with a liquid called sealant, to send waste cleanly down the drain. The sealant does not let odour escape into the open air. A urinal has a removable cartridge surrounded by tiny channels for the waste to move through. The waste flows into the cartridge through the series of circular slits on the top, filters through the sealant and then flows down into a central reservoir. In the centre of the reservoir is an open pipe that connects to the waste line.

Cost Effective Maintenance

Unlike conventional urinals, waterless urinals require no special or regular cleaning. What it requires though is replacing or cleaning of the trap cartridge at regular intervals. If the urinals are using sealant liquid, then it needs to be replaced after a stipulated time period or after 1,500 usages whichever earlier. Barring the annual check-up, there is no extra effort required to keep these urinals in working condition. Depending upon the system used and frequency of usage, these work efficiently for more than two to three years, thus saving the maintenance cost to a great extent.

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