Skip to content

McGill takes first steps in male washrooms toward a sustainable campus

Eco-urinals save buckets of water, eradicate stinky pee smell

McGill University is one of the first places in Canada to test-run an alternative to regular-flush urinals in men’s restrooms that saves gallons of water daily in a push towards sustainability.

The EcoBlue, a tiny, two-inch blue cube developed by a company based in Arizona, allows each urinal to use 99 per cent less water because it only requires that the urinal be flushed once daily during cleaning.

Dennis Fortune, Vice President of Sustainability at McGill, explained that the trial-run was the first in a line of projects planned to make McGill more sustainable.

“We have a goal of reducing our energy use by 2010 by 12 per cent. To do that, we need every renovation to demonstrate an attempt to reduce our energy,” he said.

Dormant bacteria in the cube migrate throughout the bowl and pipework breaking down ceratin chemicals in urine, explained Carly Langman, Communications Manager at EcoBlue. The cube also kills odor-causing bacteria, releasing a slightly perfumed scent pleasant to most users.

Langman explained that the cube saves clients water, adding that it is an economically wise choice in locations that charge for water use.

“In the U.S. we have some clients saving literally thousands of dollars every few months while other clients are not saving any money, but choose to use our product for the water-savings or the odor-elimination benefits,” Langman said.

A typical urinal washes down 3.8 liters of water per flush, and each urinal uses on average 40,000 litres of water every year.

Until recently, the bacteria used in the cube were not fully approved in Canada. McGill’s Shatner and Ferrier urinals are the first and only washrooms in the country featuring the EcoBlue. Schools and businesses throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia have already begun using the cubes.

As the year goes on, the Office of Sustainability plans to assess the benefits recorded in the trial by each building’s porter, who will keep detailed reports of restroom maintenance. The Office will undertake an economic assessment of the EcoBlue cubes to determine whether they could be placed in all of the men’s facilities on campus.

Feedback from the U.S. market was encouraging to Canadian trials.

Andy Brindisi, who owns a restaurant in New York, began using the cube after attending a conference in his city. “It’s easy to utilize; it’s cost effective…I’ve gotten myself on the ground floor of something that will be the norm in five years,” Brindisi said of the cube.

For the McGill campus, the use of the Ecoblue cube in urinals is only the first step toward more effecive water conservation. The Office of Sustainability is currently working to draft a set of guidelines for future building projects on campus that would guide architects and construction firms toward sustainable infrastructures. The Office of Sustainability is suggesting low-flow toilets, aeration systems and faucets, and other alternative products and practices to replace basic construction protocols.

According to Fortune, it was unfeasible to decomission the University’s recently-installed automatic-flush toilets in the Arts Building basement and in Shatner to accomodate a trial of EcoBlue that wasn’t guaranteed to succeed.

“The cubes aren’t in automatic toilets, because we didn’t want to take them out of service to do a trial,” explained Fortune.

The sensitive movement sensor on automatic-flush toilets in the Arts basement and Shatner frequently trigger the flush mechanism needlessly.

He added that sustainable development was the McGill community’s collective responsibility.

“Rather than ask, ‘What’s the school doing?’ [you should] ask, ‘What’re we all doing?’” Fortune urged.