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Cape Town invention stops large-scale water wastage

With Cape Town praying that rain will come before the city’s dams run dry, Mike Mayne believes he has a home-grown solution to the most immediate, easiest and least expensive way to save water. “The average urinal flush uses 2 litres of potable water each time it is used,” explains the founder of Cape Town-based Sannitree, a major manufacturer of biodegradable bio-enzyme products which it markets in South Africa and exports to 30 countries

“Greater Cape Town has a population of around 5 million, about half of whom, or 2,5 million, are males. Let’s be conservative and say that 1,5 million of them use urinals, with the rest using other types of toilets. The 1.5 million use urinals three times a day, with 6 litres being flushed away daily by each user. That’s 6 million litres of water a day literally flushed down the drain every single day. And remember, this is potable water.”

Mayne came across a potential solution to this wastage when he used a waterless urinal in the US some 17 years ago. He started importing the valve that operated the waterless urinal but found it to be inefficient. An alternative Swiss product became too expensive, so he worked with a Cape Town plastics engineer to design the Sannitree Waterless Urinal Valve.

Manufactured in Cape Town, the patented invention replaces the existing outlet trap in the base of the urinal bowl. The Sannitree valve contains a simple silicone flap which opens when urine passes through it, allowing the fluid to flow into the outlet pipes. When the urinal stream has stopped, the flap springs closed, sealing the valve and preventing odours from escaping into the toilet cubicle and obviating the use of chemical odour suppressants and cleansers.

“Urinals have been flushed for over 80 years solely to carry urine to waste pipes,” says Mayne. “Urine consists of 96% water, 2.44% urea, 1% salt and 0.6% of various acids. We simply don’t need water to transport water.”

The Sannitree Waterless Urinal Valve costs less than R200. “A large building with a number of urinals could be retrofitted in a day or two,” says Mayne. “The expense could be offset in a month or so by water savings.” Valves need to be replaced every six to 12 months, and in some cases only the silicone flap needs to be replaced.

The water-free toilet environment is also hostile to bacteria and viruses, which need water to exist, adds Mayne. “Particles of urine left on the urinal bowl surface deposit 1% salt and small amounts of yellow dye. This does not smell. The typical pungent smell of stale urine is caused by ammonia evolving from decomposition of urea when mixed with water.”

Sannitree has already sold over 5 000 waterless valves in Cape Town and is exporting the product. It has also won international recognition, with power generation multinational Cummins placing the Sannitree Waterless Urinal Valve among the top 10 finalists in its annual energy saving competition. This recognises another benefit from the product: its ability to reduce the amount of electricity used to pump water and maintain water pressure in municipal supply systems.

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