How the waterless urinal will save the planet

... and make hoteliers rich, reports Matthew Kalman
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There will be a lot less luxury in the five-star hotel of the future. There will only be fresh towels every day if you demand them; your bathwater will be next door's recycled tubfull; the urinal will no longer be constantly sluiced.

All this will be in the cause of saving the planet - but the fact that it will save the world's leading hotels thousands of pounds a week in laundry and water bills has not gone unnoticed by their managers. The potential for increasing profit margins with green policies has been highlighted by a video "Going Green Makes Cent$" produced by the International Hotels Environment Initiative, an advisory organisation backed by the Prince of Wales's business forum.

John Forte, one of the initiative's advisers and the nephew of hotelier Lord Forte, said: "The beauty of environmental issues is that all of them also benefit from an economic point of view. People are beginning to realise that without environmental protection they are in danger of not having a business."

Well-known chains which have already begun encouraging guests to economise include Forte, Hilton International and Best Western. Hilton and Best Western urge guests to use their towels several times to help limit the amount of chemicals used in washing them.

Hilton International's vice president of technical services, Bill Webster, found savings of 30 per cent on electricity, 30 per cent on water, 60 per cent on gas, as well as 25 per cent less waste, after issuing environmental performance guides to hotels. Detailed green proposals developed by the Forte chain in 1995 guaranteed a 25 per cent cut in running costs. The plan made use of solar energy to pre-heat water.

The search for savings led the Little Chef chain of restaurants to introduce waterless urinals: they helped bring down water and effluent bills by pounds 600 per restaurant per year. Now some of London's most upmarket hotels, the Cumberland, the Intercontinental Mayfair and The Waldorf, and the Cafe Royal, have started using them.

John Forte is convinced that the waterless urinal, which saves 500 litres a day, will soon be appreciated by the public.

"The first reaction is how the heck can you flush the urine and what about the smells, but the truth is just the opposite.

"With a waterless urinal, smells just disappear. Engineers are pleased because there's less maintenance; you get fewer floods. All you really need to do is to chuck one jar of water down the urinal every week to get rid of urine salts.

"Water is just a cosmetic. It gives the impression that you are washing away something dirty. It's just the human imagination that it's dirty. The smell actually comes when water and urine combine to form scale."

The next innovation is "grey-water" recycling technology, which filters and re-uses water from baths, showers and washing machines, with potential savings of pounds 5,000 to pounds 10,000 a year for a 200-bed hotel.

The International Hotels Environment Initiative says that as guests become accustomed to such systems, smaller hotels will introduce them too.