To pee or not to pee?

It’s not how you go, it’s where you go

Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno. His column, Greenlight, appears weekly in this space.

If you do not pee, please ignore this column. If you do pee, then you’re a part of the problem.

There are 2 million people living in the Sacramento area, each peeing around six times a day. That adds up to 12 million pees a day, or 4.38 billion a year. There’s a whole lot of peeing going on in our fair city, and it takes a whole lot of water to flush it away.

Where you pee matters. If you are peeing in an older toilet, you could be using up to 7 gallons of water each time you flush. Toilets installed in this country after 1992 are required to use no more than 1.6 gallons of water. New “high-efficiency toilets” use as little as 1.28 gallons per flush. However, if you pee at the Sacramento News & Review, in our brand-new waterless urinal, then you use virtually no water.

Recently, we discovered that our male employees are using less water than their brothers at the California Environmental Protection Agency. It seems that Cal/EPA just replaced their waterless urinals in favor of the more traditional kind. Their new urinals use one-half gallon of water every time they flush. Apparently, the switch was due to high-rise plumbing issues with the waterless urinals.

But over here on Del Paso Boulevard, we haven’t had any such problems. Not only does our urinal use hardly any water, there’s no splash back or acrid smell, either. That’s because a layer of oil covers the water in the urinal’s trap. Oil is lighter than water, and urine is 95 percent water, so the pee (and the smell!) is trapped beneath the oil. Once every two weeks, our maintenance staff flushes out the urinal with a couple of gallons of water and replenishes the oil.

I’m not sure what kind of maintenance issues the Cal/EPA experienced, but like many other green or sustainable processes, a waterless urinal requires some additional effort. It’s not all that hard—even an alternative newspaper publisher can do it. In fact, just last week, I went into our restroom, put on my rubber gloves, pulled out the strainer, poured in the water and added the oil. It took less than 10 minutes.

Perhaps you are thinking that this is just too much information about pee. But while I was cleaning that urinal, I gave thanks to the Sacramento and American rivers, for the waterfalls at Yosemite and for sunsets on the Pacific. It felt good for a small moment to be part of the solution instead of the problem.