Waterless and odour-free urinals developed by these IIT Delhi alumni serve two purposes for the environment: help save water and harvest urine for agriculture.
Most toilets use 10 litres of water for a full flush and 6 litres for a low flush — and that’s just a one-time usage. When we calculate the amount of water that literally goes down the drain every day in every house, the figures are worrying.
Uttam Banerjee, an IIT Delhi alumnus, has found a solution to reduce this tremendous water consumption: waterless urinals.
Director and CEO of social startup Ekam Eco Solutions, Banerjee has been working in the field of sanitation for the past four years, developing as well as marketing different environment-friendly technologies, one of which is Zerodor. The waterless and odourless urinal can save 50,000-1,51,000 litres of water per urinal each year.
“In his philosophy, Gandhi ji laid tremendous focus on management of three aspects: jal, thal and mal (water, land and waste). And it’s incredibly true. These three aspects, when thought of together, have an immense impact on our lives and therefore it is extremely important for us to manage these with caution,” says Uttam.
After completing his B Tech, he joined the corporate world and worked for a few years before joining IIT Delhi for his masters in industrial design. During his course, as he worked on different projects, he became interested in the field of sanitation. He draws his interest in sanitation from what he saw around him while growing up. Uttam comes from a small village that lies on the border between Jharkhand and West Bengal. Growing up, he stood witness to scarcity of water and rampant open defecation. The situation hasn’t changed much even today, he informs.
He found an associate and mentor in Vijayaraghavan M. Chariar, who is an associate professor at the Centre for Rural Development and Technology at IIT-D. Chariar, who is now chairman and director at Ekam, had submitted the concept and design of a waterless urinal as his PhD thesis.
“Since IIT is an academic institution, there wasn’t any possibility of commercialising this design and bringing it to the market, so it was shelved. However, it seemed a waste of such an incredible idea if it wasn’t put to use on a larger scale. Thus, Prof Chariar and I decided to develop on it and started Ekam,” says Uttam.
Uttam didn’t want to work on conventional sanitation systems but on ecological and sustainable systems, which is why the idea of waterless urinals grabbed his interest immediately.
Building on the research that was done already, Ekam Eco Solutions is now venturing into different territories, like using urine from waterless urinals for drip irrigation in agriculture.
“The thing is, when we use the flush, urine and water get mixed. All this lands up in the river bodies, whether treated or untreated. However, in a waterless urinal, what you get is pure urine and therefore it is possible to treat it to extract nutrients that could be extremely beneficial for the crops,” says Banerjee.
Uttam explains that there is no harm in using urine directly for the crops. The only thing to be take care of is, it should be applied to soil directly and while applying, it should not spill on leaves.
Currently, Ekam Eco Solutions is using this technology as a pilot project at three different sites. The system has been installed at the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Hyderabad and in the Rose Garden in Chandigarh. Soon, the company might implement it at other sites in Chandigarh.
Convincing people to switch to waterless urinals is one of the most difficult tasks, admits Uttam. “Using water doesn’t ensure that a urinal will be odour-free and clean. In fact, when urine mixes with water, it releases ammonia, which causes the foul smell. Flushing with water doesn’t make the urinal hygienic. However, it takes a lot of effort and explanation to make people believe that,” says Uttam.
Also, since water in India comes mostly free or at a very low cost, there’s no ‘money-saving’ factor involved that can attract Indians to waterless urinals.
Therefore, the only way that remains is to create awareness about the environment among people in order to make them understand the importance of the technology.
Zerodor is a patented technology and its rights are with IIT-D. Ekam holds the rights to disseminate this technology nationally and internationally. Zerodor works on a mechanical system with a valve, which allows the urine to go through and blocks the ammonia present in the urine in the urinal pipe. It can be retrofitted in existing urinals and no chemicals are used, no electricity is required, which makes the kit low-maintenance. All that is to be done is to wash the urinal with running water once a day to keep it clean.
The company is also undertaking pilots for the Indian defence forces. “The Indian Navy has shown keen interest because they are looking at waterless urinal solutions for their submarines and warships. However, we are still in the research phase and are trying to develop a different prototype that’d suit the Navy’s needs,” says Uttam.