At risk of sounding like an old Mastercard commercial, some things are just priceless – like not having an “accident” in a public setting. Forty percent of adults aged 30 to 70 have bladder control issues and finding a restroom can sometimes be an emergency. But even for the 60% who don’t have issues it’s no small matter. The average person uses the toilet 6 to 8 times a day or roughly 2,500 times a year. Many of those times will require public facilities or else cause a familiar but dreaded discomfort.
When I first got into the business of making restrooms I was excited to work in a business that is a basic part of life for every human being. People typically have to remember no more than a few hours back to personally relate to what I build. Yet what I find so surprising is how often I have heard people question the value of a public restroom. The most vivid example of this was years ago when I explained to a friend that restrooms cost tens of thousands of dollars. In his shocked reply he asked, “why not buy a sports car and poop in that?”
Instead of asking why restrooms are expensive we should ask whether the benefit is worth the cost. My business conducted research on this in the context of golf. We surveyed 81 golfers (67 male, 14 female) at a local driving range and asked them how much more they would be willing to spend on green fees to have access to a flush restroom instead of a porta-potty. The vast majority of respondents were willing to pay more and the median response was $5. Considering that the average green fee is somewhere around $34, that’s a pretty big deal. Looking at a course that gets 30,000 visits a year, which is on the low side of average, a couple of restrooms would provide a value of $150,000 to the course every year and millions of dollars over the course of their use.
World Toilet Day, November 19th, is a day recognized by the UN to raise awareness about the world’s sanitation issues. Perhaps it is not an accident that World Toilet Day is so close to our American Thanksgiving holiday. There are few moments in life that inspire more thankfulness than finding a toilet when in need. We should celebrate, not condemn, the availability of public toilets and at least for one day remember how fortunate we are to have access to clean, comfortable sanitation.