More and more I am encountering urinals with no top plumbing.* They no longer flush. I assumed the management of the Sloan Valve Company was losing sleep over this. Having modernized from the standard chrome lever flush valves of the 20th century to the automatic sensor flushing variety of the 21st century, they now face the extinction of their valve products as urinals go waterless.
But actually, no! They have gotten into the waterless urinal cartridge business!
I've been wondering how these flushless urinals work (another thing to do during an otherwise pretty bring moment). I guessed some kind of filtration, but I couldn't think it out much further on my own, so I did some research. It turns out they have a cartridge where the drain would be, and the cartridge has a layer of fluid that floats on water. The cartridge is constructed to let urine pass through the layer, into the water/urine beneath (on which the fluid floats) and then, with the use of a clever baffle, water/urine goes down a pipe in the back, sediments collect in the front, and the level of the urine (and the floating permeable fluid) remains constant. The fluid keeps urine from having contact with air in the men's room, making the whole affair sanitary. Apparently the fluid wears out, or sediment collects and fills the front, because they have to be replaced about every 7000 uses. See a short video of the process at Sloan's site (no worries - no bodily functions, people, or parts of people appear in this video).
Since the cartridges must be regularly replaced, this new technology creates a more permanent revenue stream for Sloan. No longer dependent solely on new or replacement plumbing jobs for orders, the more of their units are installed, the more regular orders they will receive.
But they have competition, and judging by what I'm seeing in restrooms, Sloan might not be winning the war here in the Southeast. While Sloan plumbing is almost universal, and on the web the marketing blitz for waterless seems to be in Sloan's favor, I've seen very few of their waterless cartridges yet. Instead, I keep seeing another brand...
Falcon Waterfree is the brand I'm seeing nearly everywhere. Why? Various hints and portions of articles in the green building cybersphere look like Sloan and Falcon are working with two former partners' products, that a parting of the way and a non-compete agreement prevented Falcon from marketing for 5 years, and that the time was up several years ago. So Sloan had the big head start - making Falcon's ubiquity even more puzzling.
The cartridges seem to be $39.95 from either company. Both seem to last the same amount of time (about 7000 uses**). So why am I seeing so many Falcon cartridges, rather than Sloan? Because the news about the competition is old news. Sloan and Falcon signed a partnership in 2003 - so Sloan distributes Falcon products. In other words, it's all Sloan.
So with all the water savings, are there any drawbacks to waterfree urinals? Yes, it turns out. Some public agencies and governments are hesitant because the waterfree urinal requires regular maintenance (cartridge or sealant fluid replacement) or sanitation goes down the drain. (Actually, the problem is that it doesn't.) Certain cleaning chemicals seem to interfere with the cartridges. Cartridge maintenance is apparently messy. The sealant fluid is supposedly biodegradable, but I wonder and I'm sure others do, too. And the cartridges themselves represent another plastic disposable for our landfills, have to be manufactured and trucked, etc. so it doesn't seem like a very green solution, after all.
Another company has already come to the rescue. Ecotech Water LLC manufactures a cartridge replacement that will fit Falcon and Sloan urinals, is made of more heavy duty plastic to last, and has a totally different solution. There is a funnel shaped rubber valve inside that curls up and stays airtight when no urine is passing through it. It uncurls and lets pass whatever amount of liquid enters the funnel. It's the same technology used for urinals in space (where gravity and water savings are both issues). These cartridges are much more expensive than the Falcon and Sloan disposables ($159 compared to $39.99) but they last many times longer and there is no sealant fluid to handle. I'll be looking for these replacements as I use public restrooms.
Urinals - Part 1
* This is cutting into my quiet personal quest to decipher the difference between Royal and Regal lines of Sloan valves...
** Another newcomer to this market, Issainterclean, out of Florida, has a waterless urinal (Zeroflush) that claims to get 15000 uses before maintenance...