« Innovation in Business Story

Saving the Planet, one Flush at a Time

Designing a waterless urinal that can save the planet millions of gallons of precious water every year.

Falcon Waterfree Technologies, United States

The Story:
Saving the Planet, one Flush at a Time How many gallons of water are "wasted" (pun intended) every day to flush urinals? Some estimates say 150,000 litres of water per urinal per year. Do the math. That's a lot of water. So, waterless urinals – seems like a no-brainer, right? Why use one liquid to flush another liquid?

Well, just ask James Krug. It's been a 10-year struggle to get his waterless urinals into the market.

Not so long ago, urinals used 3gallons of water per flush. That kind of extravagance is no longer accepted as the world's ever expanding population consumes more and more of its dwindling resources.

A meeting with Ditmar Gorges, who had invented a water-free urinal, provided the catalyst for Krug. Dropping his film and television career, Krug was convinced Gorges' idea for a water-free urinal was what the world needed, saving millions of gallons of water every year.

And it was not only the water that was being wasted. Just imagine the electricity being used by pumping all that water.

Borrowing the concept developed by printer companies, Krug realized that he could keep the cost of the units low, and make his profits off the cartridges that were needed to trap sewer gasses. The $40 cartridges have to be replaced after every 7,000 uses, creating a perpetual revenue stream.

With big name supporters like Marc Nathanson, Jeff Skoll and Al Gore, and with the green movement and conservation gaining momentum, Krug thought he had the perfect product with the perfect timing.

As well as saving millions of gallons of water, the flushless urinals are also touchless – avoiding the turbulence created by water flushing units that create an airborne mist of germs.

So who would resist such an improvement in urinal design?

You can imagine Krug's surprise when his urinals were opposed by… plumbers!

They complained that the units weren't sanitary. They worried that the sewer gases that escaped when cartridges were replaced could cause respiratory problems.

But a researcher hired by Krug provided a different answer: by requiring less work to install, the urinals were cutting into plumber's pay checks.

Still, the plumbers were adamant in their opposition, lobbying against the waterless urinals and even taking out a full page newspaper ad claiming the units were a threat to public health.

Although Krug failed to get the Uniform Plumbing Code changed to accommodate the flushless urinals, he did, in 2006, manage to get the International Plumbing Code to accept his waterless units, which finally allowed him to start marketing his Falcon Waterfree urinals.

Finally, in 2009 the UPC agreed to include the flushless urinals, but with a catch – standard plumbing would still be installed – but the water pipes were capped off and left hidden behind the drywall.

The military consented to test his urinals in Arizona's Fort Huachucha base, where water usage is always a concern. They soon realized the cost of the cartridges would be offset by the millions of gallons of water being saved.

Krug has now sold more than 200,000 units, and the feedback has been mixed. The main issue has been with maintenance. Properly maintained, people are happy with the units, but if maintenance is sloppy, a lot of complaints about smell, sludge and clogged pipes result.

Despite a decade of successes and setbacks, Krug is convinced his urinals are good for the planet, and can reduce water usage by 30 percent. He has maintained his entrepreneurial outlook, and is excited about moving forward with new urinal designs.

Krug believes his installations, everywhere from the Staples Center to the Taj Mahal, have saved more than 20 billion gallons of water.

Currently less than one percent of the 54 million urinals in the world are waterfree, presenting an unprecedented business opportunity for retrofitting waterless urinals.

In November 2009, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that Falcon Waterfree Technologies received the President's "E" Award for Export Growth.

In June, Falcon Waterfree Technologies earned Buildings Magazine recognition as "2010 Money-Saving Product" for the new Falcon F7000 Splash-free waterfree urinal, beating out a field of hundreds of other cost-savings products.


Next Story »

IdeaConnection: What Can we Solve for You?
Newsletter Sign Up

Join 40,000+ subscribers who receive our Open Innovation Newsletter every other week.