Would businesses in the Gulf want to flush their money down the toilet?

This is a guest article by David Pryce, partner at Tellus Environmental Specialists in the UAE.

Every time you flush the toilet you’re flushing money down the pan, but should we be talking about money or water wastage (environment)? The two are obviously linked but which is more important?

Of course, today it’s topical to talk about the environment but the reality is that, at the commercial level, many managers feel they can’t afford to consider the environment (for fear of losing their job) unless changes they initiate are either mandated by law or make sound financial sense. Therefore, in this situation, money trumps the environment!

The cost of flushing toilets

So just how much does it cost to flush the toilet and what can we do to reduce that? In the Middle East, the average cistern size is 7 litres so one flush will cost you AED 0.076. Peanuts right? Taken in this basic form it does not even seem worth writing about.

However, when you look at commercial operations, the picture changes dramatically. A decent sized mall will spend AED 237,000 per annum on the flush operation alone, this does not take into consideration the water lost when the Shattaf hose is used, not to mention sink usage. A chain of 80 petrol stations will spend AED 438,000 per annum on flush water (see table for calculations).

Now just imagine the vast number of malls, petrol stations, hospitals, schools, universities, office complexes, metro stations, airport bathrooms, hotels, labour camps etc across Dubai and the UAE and the true scale of our waste begins to become apparent.

8.5 million people use the toilet 5 times a day

Look at this a different way for a fuller picture. The conservative average number of flushes per person per day is 5 (more for women, less for men). Current estimates put the UAE population at around 10.09 million but let’s take about 1.5 million out of that for babies and toddlers. That leaves us with a population of 8.5 million using the bathroom 5 times per day at a cost of AED 0.076 per flush or AED 3.23 million just flushed away daily (AED 1.178 billion down the pan per annum!). This is scale!

The financial and environmental cost of energy

Consider this also – these figures are waste at the consumer end and represent a significant cost. However, there is a further cost at both ends of the water process – the cost of energy required to produce this volume of desalinated water and the cost of energy required to process this volume of sewage. While these costs are financially significant to the government, there is also a huge negative impact on the environment – think carbon footprint.

So, what can we do about this? Obviously we can’t really change our bathroom habits too much so we have to look at technology instead.

What is available to us?

  • Bladders are available to reduce the cistern size but only by about 15-20%

  • Vacuum systems are available but far too expensive to retrofit

  • Many toilets have a dual button for small flush/large flush but these are rarely used by any of us

Don’t change your habits, change your toilet!

There is one other technology we can use and that is a pressure flush system which uses 84% less water to do the same job. What’s more, this is easy to retrofit in almost all cases and is also more hygienic. Propelair have reinvented the toilet.

This new system uses only 1.5 litres of water and compressed air to efficiently and effectively flush the toilet, the smallest flush volume ever seen so far. In order to do this, the lid must be closed therefore reducing the aerosol effect, caused by turbulent flush water, to zero and so hygiene levels are dramatically improved.

The cost of new tech

Naturally, new technology carries a cost and the question that commercial managers will ask is ‘Is this commercially viable?’ The answer is a resounding YES, it is commercially viable or, in other words, there is an aggressive return on investment of sub 3 years in most cases, sometimes as low as 1.5 years, depending on the number of flushes and whether the facility is connected to mains sewage. This is without factoring in the reduced maintenance costs gained by fitting this new system.

Each flush using a Propelair system costs AED 0.016, down from AED 0.076. The savings are easy to calculate and again, please refer to the table to understand the calculations. In brief though, each Propelair toilet fitted in the majority of commercial operations will save around AED 2,000-2,300.

Looking once more at the total UAE picture but inserting the Propelair savings, the annual cost of flushing toilets drops from AED 1.178 billion to AED 248 million, a staggering saving of AED 930 million every year.

Without question, this is one of those remarkable solutions which is cost effective, provides good hygiene, offers a good return on investment and creates a very positive environmental effect. Lastly, adopting this solution will greatly help the UAE attain the net zero 2050 goal.