By Jeffrey the Barak
The Western United States is in a drought. The reservoirs are at their lowest levels, the forests are tinder dry and some wells have no water left in them at all. The snow packs on the mountain tops that eventually become drinking water are shrinking ever faster, and the strategy for recovery is simply to hope for rain.
Among the many ideas for water conservation are waterless urinals and waterless car wash.
Male Californians who have been to the bathroom in public buildings have by now encountered waterless urinals and many will be wondering how they work. Since there is no water coming into the bowls, how do they not simply reek of urine?
Well in fact sometimes they do stink, very much so, and that provides a clue as to what is really going on. The waterless urinal simply utilizes a layer of floating oil that the urine sinks through, and that surface layer of oil prevents the odor of the urine from evaporating into the air in the restroom. The urine itself goes down the drain just as if it were a conventional toilet.
The caretaker in charge of the restroom replenishes the oil with a proprietary oil provided by the urinal manufacturer, usually Kohler or Steward. But of course this caretaker or janitor also has to clean the bathroom and part of the process is to pour buckets of water down the waterless urinals before replenishing the oil layer. So in fact they are not waterless in any way whatsoever.
The signs above these devices that proudly proclaim how many gallons of water are saved by the absence of flushing, do not take the maintenance procedure into consideration. So to put it politely, it is a myth.
Waterless Car Wash
Waterless car wash is sprayed onto a dirty car and gently wiped away with a soft microfiber towel. It is very effective and leaves the car clean and polished without scratching the paint, as long as you do it right. But anyone who has cleaned a few very dirty cars this way or continued the process to the brake dust coated wheel rims will tell you that you quickly soil a pile of microfiber towels with the used waxy solvent.
Now microfiber towels, which are polyester, are very affordable these days, but still, no-one uses them once and throws them in the trash. No, they go into a washing machine and get cleaned with a lot of water and detergent. So the water may not touch the car, but a lot of water goes through the towels.
And so, just like the mythical waterless urinals, waterless car wash actually uses a lot of water, just not at the time it is being used to “wash” the car.
The Real Villain
Flying over Southern California cities and towns, you see a lot of green grass. It is the lawns of golf courses, country clubs, sports fields, city parks and the front and back yards of private homes. But this is a part of the world that is supposed to be a semi-arid coastal plain. Practically a desert. Lawn is just not meant to be here, and the only reason it can be here is because we dump millions of gallons of drinking water on it to keep it alive.
This is also true in countless other parts of the world with large populations.
With the very real possibility of universal water rationing on the horizon, we need to keep more of our water for drinking and for growing food. We do not need grass. But knowing how people think we may one day be seeing poor people dying of thirst while others play golf on green golf courses and then go to the “waterless” urinal while the valet cleans their car with “waterless” car wash.