How McDonald’s is saving many trucks of water, one waterless urinal at a time

Indians use 2 billion gallons of water everyday to flush. And here’s how McDonald’s is trying to do its bit, starting with its washrooms.


South Asia, which occupies about 5% of the world’s land mass and and accounts for 16% of the world’s population, has about 4% per cent of the world’s renewable water resources. By 2025, the region will be home to about 25% of the world’s population and by World Bank estimates, India will exhaust its fresh water by 2050 at the current rate of consumption. India, that is predominantly getting its sources from groundwater, ranks a dismal low 120th out of 122 nations for its water quality and 133rd out of 180 nations for its water availability, according to an Accenture report on safe water.

While changing precipitations, climate change and low rainfall are reasons quoted often for the depletion, over-pumping of groundwater and wastage for frivolous purposes add to the woes. Indians use 2 billion gallons of water everyday to flush. And here is where McDonald’s is trying to do its bit, starting, surprisingly, with its washrooms.

The very thought that your urine isn’t getting washed away to yield a sparkling clean closet can make you squirm. Yet, waterless urinals make a compelling case – with each flush making up 40% of any typical home or establishment’s water usage, waterless urinals can really save a LOT of water! Besides, they are supposed to help in producing lesser bacteria than a normal flush, as urine by itself is sterile, but produces bacteria when it mixes with water.

“We are dependent on water for the agricultural systems that grow and support the food served at our restaurants. To conserve water sustainably and relieve the overburdened waste disposal system in the country, we studied our restaurants to determine how much water we could conserve,” says Ranjit Paliath, vice president of business operations (McDonald’s India: West and South), who is the spokesperson for McDonald’s sustainability operations in India.

“We found that water used in our washrooms was the biggest contributor to waste in our restaurants. An average toilet used between four and ten litres of water for every flush, while a stuck flush valve could waste around 64,000 litres of water per year. Just one small steady leak in a pipe could waste up to 227,125 litres of water every year. By replacing the water-based waste disposal system with a waterless urinal, we found that we could save over 1,51,000 litres of water per urinal every year,” Paliath said.

The initiative is now operational in over 30 of McDonald’s restaurants in Maharashtra and the team is set to roll out more across their restaurants in south India. The company is incorporating a cost effective mechanical solution designed by IIT-Delhi and distributed by Ekam Eco Solutions that can be retrofitted into their existing urinals. Patented as Zerodor, the technology helps ensure hygiene and efficient collection of urine for productive use in agricultural and industrial processes, while repressing odour, he added.


Are ‘no-water urinals’ a practical solution in India?

It’s not just McDonald’s — corporations, the government and various other institutions are increasingly looking at waterless solutions to manage water resources effectively.

As for government initiatives, lists show that there are 200 waterless urinals under the limits of South Delhi Municipal Corporation, 338 urinals under the North Delhi Municipal Corporation and 285 urinals under the East Delhi Municipal Corporation. The report added that the urinals were set up in ITO, IGI Stadium, ISBT Kashmere Gate, New Delhi and Old Delhi railway stations, Mukherjee Nagar, Green Park, Hauz Khas, RK Puram, Lajpat Nagar and Vasant Vihar.

Civic authorities in Mumbai, Delhi, Chandigarh, Triruchirapalli and Pimpri Chinchwad have also used waterless urinals in not just their offices, but in public as well, according to a report. The executive health officer at the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) is quoted as saying, “We have replaced all the 66 traditional urinals with waterless urinals in the main PCMC building and are planning to do the same in other buildings owned by the Municipal Corporation.”

A Livemint report said, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation installed the urinals at the Gateway of India, the Chennai municipality converted seven normal urinals in the Ripon building to waterless ones, while the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation installed waterless urinals in 11 metro stations.

Convincing the customer

Perhaps the most challenging part is convincing customers that waterless toilets are hygenic and safe, especially in public places.

“We have received a very positive response from customers and employees alike. The waterless urinals are clean, convenient and leave the washrooms with a fresh odour” insists Paliath.

Vandana Vasudevan writes on the Livemint, saying, “The initial cost is higher than that of normal urinals. A normal one costs between Rs.7,000 and Rs.10,000, while a waterless one costs double. But it works out cheaper when you consider the savings in water and electricity required to pump up the water into the overhead tank. The website shows the calculation. Many manufacturers are competing in this sector worldwide, driving prices down.” Yet, she points out that driving customer acceptance is one of the biggest challenges.

Addressing sustainability through various means

Apart from the unique waterless urinal program, McDonald’s has been working on various other ways to be eco-friendly with its operations:  effective use of various energy-saving technologies has reduced its energy consumption and lowered its carbon-doxide emissions, the company has worked with local governments to extend subsidy benefits on drip irrigation to small and marginal farmers; it also works with farmers to implement water saving technologies in farms, including watershed management, micro-irrigation systems and crop protection programmes, which have saved 13 million litres of water to date.

Featured Image via Flickr CC Terry Johnston


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