Q&A: Waterless Urinal Inventor Klaus Reichardt

Waterless

The promise of a urinal you don't have to flush is obvious. Save water. Less sewage. But many people still can't get pass the notion that human waste isn't being flushed away. Wouldn't it smell? That's one of the biggest misconceptions that the inventor, Klaus Reichardt, has had to get people pass. In his view, they're not only many times more hygienic but also cost efficient compared to standard flush urinals.

I recently spoke to the founder of Waterless Company about how far the technology has come in recent years.  

 When did it occur to you that a waterless urinal would be something that can replace current ones?

During the late 80’s, I was in the import and export business and was looking to get into another business. Interestingly enough, California was going through one of the first big droughts in a long time and I had heard about some kind of waterless urinal from back in the 1890’s in Switzerland. So a lot of the reason had to do with feeling that there would be a need for something like this since the state was trying to conserve water.

Going from idea to execution, what was the thought process?

My goal from the start was always to come up with a system that was very simple and looked like a regular urinal. When you’re trying to change people’s attitudes and persuade them to try something different, you want to make it as close to something people are already familiar with.

The other thing was to make sure it was cost efficient so that people would have a reason to install the urinals. This pitch here was that the long-term savings would allow people to make their money back within 3 to 4 years time. Today, with rising water and sewer fees, people can pretty make back their investment in under a year.

What were some of the early challenges you faced?

In my case, coming up and finalizing a product wasn’t difficult. Bringing it to market was where we ran into some challenges. For example, we quickly found out that to install our urinals, we needed a plumbing code approval, which put a big stop to everything. At the time, these codes weren’t set up to work with fixtures that didn’t use water.

It was pretty much a political battle to be able to install our urinals. We had the plumbers’ union fighting against the changes since there were no water lines to install. And the whole mess, in essence, stopped all sales. Eventually, we were able to establish our own standards that were adopted as part of the plumbing code in many places. Only Illinois, Kentucky and Minnesota don’t allow for waterless urinals.

What are some of the misconceptions that people have about waterless urinals?

People had been used to flushed urinals and so naturally when you have something that operates differently what comes to mind is hygiene concerns. First of all, there is no odor and it often confuses people because everyone is used to odors from urinals. I had to explain to the people who ran these facilities that the liquid chemical we used to seal off urine held in the trap was just doing its job.

The other thing to know is that bacteria needs moisture in order to grow so urine by itself doesn’t smell unless its mixed with water. Also, since the urinal doesn’t use water, the little aerosol droplets that might carry bacteria and are caused by flushing are no longer an issue.   

Are there additional advantages to using a waterless urinal rather than a regular urinal?

Yes, one of the biggest advantages is that pipes last much longer. The thing is flushed urinals always had problems with drain lines over time because mixing water and urine together leads to a buildup of limestone. So it was common for these facilities perform maintenance, such as taking the urinals off the walls that were plugged up and snaking the lines. To do this, it took about two guys and about an hour’s worth of work.

Also, if plumbers ever do need to snake the drain line, our waterless urinals allow for access to them without having to take out the urinals. So that saves time as well.

So what do you have in the pipeline within the next few years?

Well, we now have a ceramic model similar to flushed urinals whereas in the past we offered only fiber glass ones. Another thing is, in recent years, we started to receive more and more requests from people who want a waterless urinal installed in their home. So it seems like this awareness about water conservation is now reaching the home. We’re looking into offering and installing versions for people in this market.

There are also many countries out there that can really use our product. An example is India where water can be scarce in some regions.  So there are a lot of opportunities out there.