Plugging the Problem

Used the toilet and forgot to flush? It's a US$100 fine for the offence here in spick and span Singapore. But if green toilets do take off, flushing urinals, at least, may soon be a thing of the past.

Issue: Jul 2009

The Sound of Silence: Urinals at Capital Tower no longer need to be flushed.
A quiet kind of change is happening at the toilets in Capital Tower. The men walk away from urinals, and, there are no familiar sounds of flushing.

Welcome to the world of waterless urinals - where flushing is completely unnecessary. Once you're done, just walk away and millions of mighty microbes (packed in cubes) will take over.

Microbes are organisms that are too small for the human eye to spot, yet they play a big role in mopping up messes. They attack and break down organic matter; they also stop faecal bacteria in the toilets from digesting uric proteins and producing stinky smells.

Simple Solution

This seemingly simple microbial technology has helped Capital Tower's management to save 12 million litres of water (that can fill five Olympic-sized pools) each year since late 2007. That is surely not something to wrinkle your nose at.

"With the implementation of the waterless urinal system, we saved 7.5% of our annual water consumption," says Ong Soon Ann, building manager of CapitaLand Commercial Management Pte Ltd for Capital Tower.

But going waterless was not all plain sailing; there were the usual teething problems. "We had feedback from our tenants about the smell initially," Ong admits. But after some adjustments, which included adding the use of microbial spray, they have not had any more complaints.

Why Go Dry

A third of the water we use daily goes down the drain - literally. Washing, bathing, and flushing are all essential parts of our routine but the growing awareness for water conservation has led to the rise of green toilets worldwide.

More Canadians are now using low-flow showerheads, while Americans living in water-scarce states are turning to water-free toilets that rely on composting technology.

Singaporeans are all too familiar with the call for water conservation. The government has invested heavily in technologies to reclaim waste water - giving the precious resource a second life after it is purified and disinfected using membrane technologies and ultraviolet light. Rainwater is also collected and stored in our reservoirs, including the latest one at the Marina Barrage. Many companies have followed suit, hitting the green path by investing in eco-friendly buildings, and more specifically "green toilets."

A Green Approach

The building management at Six Battery Road, like that of Capital Tower, has embraced a green approach towards their toilets. Since April this year, a type of biotechnology pellets has been placed at selected high-usage urinals, to test the pellets' effectiveness in combating smells, without the use of the flush. These pellets rely on the same principles of using microbes to kill germs and smells.

The Green Room at Six Battery Road that displays the building's eco-friendly initiatives to encourage tenants to be more environmentally conscious
"It's been good so far. There has been no smell and we are doing fine progressively," says Doreen Yeo, building manager of CapitaLand Commercial Management Pte Ltd for Six Battery Road.

This trial, which has so far been successful, is actually their second try at using microbial technology. The first, which used another type of microbes, had failed to please noses. But Yeo's team had pressed on to look for alternatives, determined to find an environmentally-friendly solution.

"The water usage of urinals can be very high, so waterless urinals can enable us to save water. We can also save money on maintenance costs," adds Yeo.

Yeo's team has set up a sample urinal in its basement carpark's Green Room, to demonstrate the use of this waterless system. Charts, brochures and pictures further explain how the pellets do their magic to eliminate bad smells. Seeing it in action, says Yeo, is easier than explaining it in words.

The Green Room is Six Battery Road's gallery of its eco-initiatives. Lining the walls are signs exhorting tenants to buy and use green products. There is a display of the non-toxic and biodegradable cleaning agents, as well as recycled hand towels and toilet rolls that the building's management have switched to using in recent years.

Recycling Paper

It is no surprise why companies and buildings such as Six Battery Road have turned to using recycled paper for their toilets. The humble toilet roll is the third most purchased item among non-food items. Modern toilet users can't 'leave' without it - using up about nine sheets for each toilet visit.

Reduce Refuse: Each tonne of recycled paper made into toilet rolls can save 17 trees from being felled.
Each tonne of recycled-paper rolls is 17 trees saved: instead of using virgin pulp, used paper such as newspaper or writing paper are recycled into toilet rolls. Manufacturing them sucks up 28 to 70 per cent less energy compared to using virgin pulp.

The process requires less water too. While they may not all be as soft and luxuriant as their non-recycled cousins, recycled rolls work just as well. Brands such as Seventh Generation (a popular American brand that specialises in eco-friendly household products) now boast of 100 per cent recycled rolls that are quilted to deliver a softer touch.

Lights Out

Motion sensor lights can shave off as much as 85 per cent from power bills
A green toilet can't quite be complete without being energy efficient. Most companies are no longer in the dark, knowing that lights are one of the prime energy suckers that can run up the power bills. Greater attention is now paid to the way toilets are designed, such as larger windows to allow in natural light; more are also turning to energy-saving lights, and those with motion sensors.

These sensor lights detect movements: they flicker on when there are people in the toilet, and turn off once human activity ceases. With that, lights are no longer left on for hours pointlessly. Motion sensor lights, which are used in Capital Tower and the new Ascott Singapore Raffles Place, can save up to 85 per cent of energy.

Gentler on the Wallet

Green toilets may do good for the environment, but they can also do more for one's wallet. Be it water or energy conservation, they both help to reduce monetary expenditures. The green amenities implemented are just small investments that will go a long way towards saving future costs. And in times of a bad economy, we think that's not a bad idea at all.

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