Alternatives to Traditional Odor Control Products and Packaging Get Mixed Results

Marketing directors know that how a product is packaged can be almost as important as the product itself. Unfortunately in the odor control business, the nose knows when a product fails—regardless of packaging. Convenience, cost savings, and environmentally friendly chemicals cannot overcome a simple fact: when someone uses a portable restroom, it better not smell like one.
The problem for companies that provide portable restroom supplies is that their products are only effective if they are used properly and if the portable restroom operator pays close attention to routine maintenance. For example, warm weather, heavy usage, and other factors play a huge rule in odor control. If a portable toilet is not pumped regularly, if the chemicals are not adjusted to the temperature, or if it is otherwise sloppily maintained, the restroom will live down to its long-held—justified or not—reputation.

Two factors seem to be driving the portable restroom deodorizer market today: the viability of using pre-measured chemicals to help make maintenance easier and the use of environmentally friendly alternatives. One example is the ubiquitous urinal cake, which for years has been made of Para dichlorobenzene. Companies are promoting their “Para-free” odor control products. Whether they work as well as the enviro-friendly products is a matter of debate. Regardless, packaging—and the chemicals in those packages—are the hot topics in the odor-control business.

The good news is that manufacturers and distributors of odor-control products provide plenty of options for portable restroom operators. The chemicals have gotten safer and generally are more effective, especially when used correctly. Pre-packaged options help control chemical use and keep the material out service workers’ hands. If pre-packaged convenience is too expensive, there are alternatives, such as do-it-yourself pumps and mixers to blend the right concoctions for odor control.         

The other good bit of news is that companies are touting their enviro-friendly products and getting results from buyers. Many even go so far as to have their “environmental statements” posted on their websites, and they use specially designed logos on their products to assure users that their chemicals are safe to use.

In the past, for example, deodorizing urinal cakes, which are placed inside the bottom of urinals, were commonly made with a chemical called Para dichlorobenzene. The chemical is also known as “Para or pDCB.” States, such as California, Maine, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, have started to ban the use of the chemicals in urinal odor-control cakes. As a result, manufacturers have found new ways to fight odors.

Those in the industry said that some of the changes that have emerged in recent years have been met with an uncertain response from operators.

The first, proportioned packaging has been around for some time but with no clear preference emerging among customers. Some industry people thought it would be widely embraced by operators who are struggling to control chemical costs. The problem is that the convenience and accuracy of the special packaging itself is more expensive. Operators may initially have embraced the packaging but later found that the initial costs did not overcome the ultimate savings in chemicals.

Just about every company that sells odor control products, including Walex Products Co. of Wilmington, N.C., offers pre-measured quantities of chemicals, either in pre-measured packets or tablets.
Pre- measured chemicals for the portable toilet industry have several advantages. The first is basic economy. Expensive chemicals are pre-mixed in the correct proportion to accomplish the job at hand. Nothing goes to waste, and there is no guesswork or sloppy measurement involved. In addition, some of the chemicals are dangerous; an operator does not have to handle the material directly when it comes pre-packaged in the correct measurements. Finally, convenience is a big benefit. If an operator has a long route, he or she does not have to take the time to measure chemicals. They just toss them in and get back on the road.

Size does not seem to matter when it comes to those using pre-measured chemicals.  If the cost is too off-putting for some operators, some manufacturers sell pumps that can be carried on the truck and that measure the correct amount of chemicals. It is the best of both worlds. Operators can buy chemicals in bulk but pre-measure it themselves. Corey Morton, sales manager at Walex, said the pumps, which can be used to pre-mix chemicals that are then carried on a truck have a relatively limited market because the operator needs a three-compartment truck to handle the mixture: one for water, one for waste and the other for the chemicals.

The motivation is cost, but safety clearly is another. Formaldehyde has an inherent health risk, and pre-measuring chemicals – regardless of how it is done – can eliminate that risk by reducing the need to handle the chemicals much or at all.  Remember, odor control is related to temperature. How weather produces more odor. Some operators simply use more chemicals in an imprecise fashion as the temperature rises.  Pre-measured chemicals eliminate the guesswork.

One company at the forefront of the industry is Chempace Corp. of Toledo. The company makes a wide range of products for municipalities, along with the septic, automotive, private aviation, and a handful of other industries.

The company’s products are sold in bulk as well as in convenient, ready-to-use packages. An example is Chempace’s Super PowrPak, a dry, pre-measured, non-formaldehyde package for portable sanitation needs. The company also has an “enviro-friendly logo” to help buyers easily identify its 100-percent biodegradable products, specifically those that are non-toxic and non-caustic.

Another player in the portable toilet chemical industry is Polyportables of Dahlonega, Georgia. The company is no newcomer to the environmental movement, offering products that are earth friendly for the past decade. In 2002, Polyportables extended its commitment further, creating a sister company called Green Way Products that offers even more choices for operators’ portable sanitation needs.
Green Way has two relatively new liquid-based deodorizers—Blue Works and Bio Works.  The newest player on the market is the company’s Turbo Tube, which combines the convenience of single-use package dosing with the company’s commitment to the environment. The other is the Turbo DriPax, a concentrated water soluble deodorizer, again in a single-dose packet. The products are offered in a variety of strengths to provide great odor control without wasting the product. The pre-packaged products are sold in three sizes, based on the weather temperature and the type of event served by the portable toilet. Special weekend events, for example, would require a different dosage from a toilet that was in use for a full week.

Pre-packaged or mix-your-own odor-control products will both have a place in the market, according to Cindy Bouse, Sales and Marketing Director for Green Way. “Every operator has their own system in place. Some operators have their own metered pump on their truck[s] to measure chemicals. It just depends on the individual. Portioned control packaging is time efficient [with] the toss-and-go rather than measuring it out. Plus, there’s always a spillage issue and over- and under-use. Portion control is always going to be a little bit more expensive because of the packaging, but time is money. It all depends on the operator.”

As for the environmental issues, particularly those associated with Para, Green Way’s products are benzene-free. Green Way’s Formulator and General Manager, Dale Wallace, said that chemicals strongly associated with cancer are being phased-out throughout the industry. California regulations seem to set the standard, and those standards tend to move throughout the country.
“We eliminate so many things, [and their replacements] may not be quite as effective, but they are certainly much more user friendly, which is important, especially for the end user, and by end user, I mean the operators who are handling the material,” Wallace said.

Company President, Kathy Crafton, said, “Harsh chemicals are no longer necessary to do our jobs. With effective, non-polluting organic deodorizers, we need no excuse in describing ourselves as significant contributors to environmental safety and the public good. A public image like that can be good for the soul and pretty darn good for business, too.”
Crafton said the company’s Earth Works line is the only portable restroom deodorizer recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the environment program, which promotes innovative chemical products, technologies, and practices that benefit human health and the environment.

Earth Friendly Chemicals of Virginia Beach has two pre-packaged products designed for controlling odors in portable restrooms. The first, QuickCHARGE, is for light- to moderate-use situations. The second is SuperCharge, for moderate to heavy use, such as at construction sites or large special events. Do-it-yourself concentrates sold in bulk also are available.

The other factor in the portable restroom arena—non-pDCB products—has also been dealt with by Earth Friendly Chemicals. The company is selling what it calls the “first truly environmentally safe urinal block. Our non-pDCB formula is made of specially chosen components, creating the safest and least damaging urinal block in the industry. Not only are the components safe, EnviroMINT® is engineered with the increased capability of degrading uric acid, which is the leading cause of odors, urinal scum, and scaling. The same claim cannot be made about conventional para-urinal blocks.”
Morton mentioned that Walex has been a leader in the green movement.  “We have a significant line of products that are environmentally friendly and biodegradable. We were one of the first to come out with them with our Bio-active and Bio-pak odor control products.” Bio-active is a drop-in product that reduces surface and bottom solids in septic tanks. Bio-pak is a natural enzyme odor control package for portable restrooms.

Morton said that while individual products may be considered environmentally friendly, a portable restroom unit is, in fact, entirely green, regardless of the individual products within it. Portable restrooms are green because they conserve water and all the waste is completely recycled through treatment at a wastewater plant.

Pre-portioned chemicals, environmental issues, government regulations—they all play a role in the portable restroom experience. The bottom line, however, is that when the door shuts behind someone using a portable restroom, the place better not smell like one. Maintenance is crucial, and pre-packaged chemicals can put together the most effective odor-eliminating cocktail. Does it save money? Sometimes. Are those chemicals non-toxic and safe for the environment? Increasingly, the answer is yes. The one certainty is that companies are responding to their operators’ needs and the needs of the environment.

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