Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Flushless Toilets

There is a disturbing trend happening in the men's room. No, I'm not talking about the creepy bathroom attendant that sits by the sinks and watches you wash your hands, then hands you a paper towel and offers you cologne in exchange for a tip. That is certainly disturbing, but I think (at least, I hope) it’s on the decline. I'm referring to flushless urinals.

Flushless toilet technology has existed ever since Adam first had to go Number 2. It was called squatting wherever you wanted to. This is still the case in much of the uncivilized world, but here in America we quickly developed the outhouse (still flushless, but more convenient), and then graduated to the water closet, today known simply as the toilet. In my opinion, beer and the flush toilet come in as number 1 and 2 respectively as the greatest inventions of all time. (Get it?)

Shortly after the flush toilet was invented, the public restroom was invented, and shortly after that, the first line to use the potty was invented. In the case of the women’s room, no amount of technological advancements could change the fact that women go to the bathroom in groups and stay in there forever, so their lines have remained long throughout history.

In the case of the men's room, it soon became evident that another technology could be employed to accommodate man's natural desire to pee standing up, making many of the bathroom trips faster, so the first urinal was invented. It was a flush toilet that bolts to the wall, and it was the third greatest invention ever. It improved our bathroom efficiency so much that men’s rooms now only have lines during halftime and the seventh inning stretch.

America has always been on the leading edge of good toilet technology. While the British invented it, we made it work right, and we mass-produced it. Widespread adoption of the flush toilet could be the single greatest environmental achievement of all time. It is certainly the single greatest improvement of the bathroom environment of all time. Not only did we Americans make the toilet functional and affordable to the common man, but we have also showed great restraint in not getting too crazy with it. To our credit, the wild Japanese talking toilets that are more like a car wash than a commode have not caught on here. We never even embraced the bidet. It’s been around as long as the toilet has, but still to this day they are only found in five-star hotels and really rich people’s houses, and they only pretend that they use them. They’re not fooling us.

Despite our track record of toilet-forward progress, sadly, with regard to the urinal, our country seems to be regressing. I am seeing more and more “waterless” urinals out there. I will explain what these are, since some of you men and most of you women have probably not seen these yet. It looks like a regular urinal, but there is no flush valve of any kind on top. Down where the water and the urinal cake normally live, there is nothing but a perforated plastic plate. When you pee into it, it disappears under the plate.

Regular toilets and urinals are very simple. Fresh water sits in what is called a “U-bend,” gracefully shielding the user from the unpleasant smell of the sewer pipe on the other side, and more importantly, protecting the bathroom and whatever it is attached to from filling up with noxious and potentially explosive sewer gases. When you place something that you no longer want in the toilet, and flush it, new fresh water comes rushing in to whisk your refuse away and replace the water in the U-bend with nice, clean, fresh, nothing-but-water, water. Simple, clean, and effective.

When you pee into a “waterless” urinal, you don’t get to send nice clean fresh water after it to whisk it away. So, where, you might ask, has that pee gone? It stays right underneath the perforated plastic plate, going nowhere until someone else replaces it with more pee, forcing your old pee down the U-bend. No fresh water in the equation. Hmmm. I’m no expert, by any means, but that plan seems ultimately flawed to me. We seem to be relying on a constant supply of “fresh pee” to keep things hygienic. You can surely understand my misgivings with that plan.

Now, besides the fact that this technology seems iffy at best from a physics, or a hygienic, or a just plain old common sense standpoint, my real problem with it is psychological. It’s the lack of the flush that irks me the most. Not the water itself, just the flush. The action of flushing. The satisfying finality of pushing the handle down and hearing the roar of the water.

The industrial-strength deluge of the urinal flush is special. It is final. It not only signals to the next guy in line that he’s up, but it signals to your psyche that you are done. Mission accomplished. A true sense of relief that comes from finishing the job. You walk-jogged up to that urinal with a powerful need to pee. You relieved yourself and it was in fact a big relief, but it’s not really, truly, 100% satisfying until you’ve slapped that handle down and heard that “whoosh.”

Now, you ladies might be thinking, well if you guys like the flush noise so much, how come you like peeing outdoors more than indoors? Great question! While it is true that we love to pee outside, there is a distinct lack of finality because of nothing to flush. That shortcoming with the outdoor pee, however, is totally offset by the fact that when peeing outdoors, we get to pee on something. The tree, the bush, the big rock, the fence post. Cursive writing in the snow. Aiming and hitting your mark outdoors completely overshadows the flush and makes it a moot point. Not so with the waterless urinal.

In fact, that leads us to the final problem I see with the flushless urinals. When we’re not outside peeing on the ants that are trying to climb the tree, we still like to aim. It is a universal truth that any man standing at a urinal will attempt to be helpful by cleaning off any cigarette ash, specks of dirt, or any other debris that happens to be anywhere inside the porcelain curvature, guiding the foreign material down to the pool of water at the bottom with our incredible accuracy. With a standard urinal, the flush creates a rush of water down the back side to actually clean it off after we’re done “helping.” The waterless urinal doesn’t have that self-cleaning feature.

Do the businesses and organizations willingly installing these flawed devices not see the inherent problems associated with a lack of fresh water? And much more importantly, why do they want to take our flush noise away? Who’s in charge over there?

Oh well. I guess we’ll all just pee outside more in the future. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I saw some ants trying to climb the tree in my backyard.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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