Soybean Based Urinals
The company I work for, like so many others, is going green. The company is pushing bike to work initiatives, electric hand dryers instead of paper towels, and the latest waterless urinals. While I have no doubt the electric hand dryers are saving both the environment and corporate funds (employees often wipe their hands on their pants before being held a minute or more to use the electric hand dryers), the urinals got me thinking.
The waterless part is great right? Saving lots of water? Sure, but the urinals smell terrible. It would seem they are also nearly impossible to hit, as every waterless urinal seems to have urine all over the floor in front of it. Those things are downers, but don’t really matter to the company right? Well I’m not so sure. Whatever they spent on the trial green bathroom facility is certainly wasted; traffic to the bathroom seems almost negligible. But that wasn’t even what got me thinking.
The urinal claimed to be made out of 30% of a soy based resin. Well at first that made me happy. All of my friends know I hate soy based foods, and the idea that I was urinating on something partially soy based just made my day. However, I started to think back to the impact that corn subsidies which promoted creating ethanol based fuels had on worldwide food prices, and wondered what impact soy based urinals might have if they were to suddenly become increasingly popular. I don’t know if you remember the report, but the finding was summarized as follows:
“When all the costs and benefits are tallied, the government, taxpayers, and consumers together would lose $6.1-$7.2 billion or $1.61-$1.92 per additional gallon produced during the 1986-94 period if ethanol subsidies were increased enough to prompt the ethanol industry to produce 2 billion gallons in 1995. Conversely, if ethanol production falls to zero, they would save some $6.8-$8.9 billion, or $1.35-$1.76 per gallon not produced.”
Make no mistake, they aren’t making soy into just urinals, they are also making biodiesel from it. An increase in demand or government subsidies of the soy biodiesel production could create a similar cost to tax payers, or a worldwide swing in the price of soy. When the price of soy goes up, all kinds of crazy things happen. It would seem that the cost of soy is directly correlated with deforestation in the Amazon, as people scramble to clear forest to plant the bean. Though the markets are complicated, we know that as the price of food goes up, people starve. We saw this very clearly in 2008.
My conclusion: enjoy the smug satisfaction of your flushless urination and as they raze the Amazon rainforests and children in third world countries drop dead of starvation. Go Green!