Bio blocks help save water and its demand is on the rise. While its imports have grown considerably, there is an opportunity to manufacture it in India
Almost every country across the globe is getting increasingly concerned about the depletion of natural resources.With only 2.5 percent of the total volume of water available to us in the form of fresh water and an ever depleting water table, wastage of water has become a major issue.
When it comes to ways of conserving water, methods such as rain-water harvesting, basic practices like repairing leaking taps or not keeping the water running are the most common. But has it ever occurred to you that simply by flushing a men's urinal we waste 100,000 liters of drinkable water per year or 8,333 liters per month!
Particularly to deal with the flush menace, back in 1991 the concept of waterless urinals were introduced by an American company called Waterless and soon the technology spread to Europe, Japan and South Africa. Down the years, variants like membrane valves and sealant liquids have been developed to make urinals waterless. However, one of the latest variants in this category are biological blocks, which are also finding steady acceptance amongst the Indian corporates.
What are bio blocks and how do they work?
Bio blocks typically work on the fundamentals of modern day biological warfare where micro-organisms are used for destructive purposes. These blocks contain a number of active ingredients, including microbial spores and surfactants that are used to tackle uric acid and odour.
When these blocks are placed in the urinal pans, upon interaction with urine, the spores in the block become active 'good' bacteria that 'feed' upon the urine and then multiply. Once a person urinates, the urine pushes down the bacteria into the urinal pipe and over a period of 15-30 days an entire colony of microbes spurs up in the back area of the urinal—starting from the pipeline to the sewage treatment plant (STP). Now, the good bacteria reacts with the urine and uric acid, thus taking care of the odour. Plus, there is a little bit of perfume that is also present in the block. The pipe now gets into an auto clean mode.
Water itself simply pushes the untreated urine into the STP for further treatment and neutralization. But in this case, it is not needed as the bacteria neutralizes the urine and thus one can afford to go flush-less. There is a liquid variant for this technology too, which can be used to mop the urinal floor to deal with spilled urine.
"In a way, three basic problems are taken care of—wastage of water, the odour and contamination and diseases", says IP Swahney, CEO, Eagle Build-Tech, master distributors of bio blocks in north India, manufactured by a UK-based company called Bio-productions.
Each bio block on an average gets consumed within three to four days (as per tests conducted in public ares like shopping malls) and it takes 300 uses on an average to consume one block. A bio block typically comes within the price range of Rs 20-26.
However, the bio block armed urinals would still require 10 liters of water flushed down everyday as the bacteria needs moisture to breed and multiply in case the quantity of urine isn't enough. Again, the bacteria needs to grow downwards in the pipeline rather than getting stuck in one place or growing upwards, for which the flush is necessary. According to Dr VM Chariar, Centre for Rural Development and Technology, IIT Delhi, waterless urinals with the technologies available would still need human intervention and maintainence, but nevertheless they lead to a lot of savings in terms of water. Chariar himself has been aggressively steering ahead the concept of waterless urinals and is responsible for a product to achieve the same objective—IIT Zerodor.
Advantages and Opportunities
Besides saving water and fighting odour, bio blocks help save or at least reduce on other major operating expenses like plumbing and fixtures, pumping water, electricity, extensive use of manpower and use of deodorizers among others.
Amitabh Vardhan, CEO of PVR Cinemas, which had ladopted this technology a couple of years ago, says that there is a corporate social responsibility angle attached to the initiative as well. "We started from Delhi NCR and now we have extended the product usage to Mumbai, Punjab and Bengaluru to name a few places. We are using witty stickers in our urinals to educate the movie-goer about the initiative and from time to time we get a lot of feedback and queries regarding it," he says. Some of the others who are using the concept include ITC, McDonald's, Ernst & Young, Nestle, Tata Teleservices and Motorola, to name a few.
Apart from bio blocks there are other ways of going waterless. However, in almost all such cases the urinals require retrofitting and fixtures and in some cases complete replacement of the old urinal with a new one. Replacing the urinal might end up fetching costs as high as Rs 15,000 or even more. However, with bio blocks there is no such retrofitting required. In case the customer is not happy with the blocks or gets apprehensive about not flushing the urinal, he can always switch on the water and go back to his old ways.
Also, the fact that these blocks are currently imported and not manufactured in India, creates a buisness opportunity for home production. Swahney believes that as and when the demand and consumption of the blocks would rise and become steady one can easily invest on a home base for production. He is even envisaging that 3-5 years down the line, a bio blocks might even be sold in the retail format. He also sees opportunities in pitching for a Waterless Commonwealth Games 2010 as well as convincing public utilities like the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) or municipal corporations to take up the blocks for use.
Challenges and Barriers
One of the major constraints or problem areas for this product is its cost. Because of the fact that bio blocks are currently imported, distributors in India are subject to a steep 25 percent duty and another 15-20 percent for freight. This raises the cost for the end consumer considerably as each block costs nearly Rs 26. But this can come down considerably if we have more home-grown products.
Another barrier is the housekeeping agency. Corporates ideally employ housekeeping agencies, for whom naphthalene balls or Odonil type of products come for a much lesser price than a bio block. The housekeeping agency would never buy a bio block as it adds to its budget. To cut across that, the owner of the building can buy the blocks for a special rate and then pass it on to housekeeping from his side for free. "For this I need to convince the owner that he is winning on a CSR angle as well as saving money on water supply and other charges. After all, any change would come with resistance!" says Swahney.
The other problem lies in the mindset and lack of knowledge. Dr Chariar feels that we need a cultural transformation. "In the urban mindset we have always thought that we need water to flush away waste. But in the rural areas they still believe in throwing away waste into the soil and returning to the earth its original nutrients. It's an anti-ecological mindset to think 'Take all the waste out of my sight'. We need to come out of it," he states.
Probably by doing that and spreading awareness about such alternatives to save water, other industries like hospitality can also easily embrace such initiatives. Vijay Sehgal, Chief Engineer, ITC Green Center, echoes a similar thought as he maintains that while some of the ITC hotels have deployed bio blocks in the employee area, they are yet to be used in the front end or the guest area.
As far as the future is concerned most believe the challenge for waterless urinals lies in a non-consumable variant that doesn't need to be replaced and yet lets us go waterless, odour-free and hygienic.
written by komal patel rajkot, June 04, 2011
written by nfl football jerseys, October 07, 2010
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