In recent times there has been a massive increase in tourism from Asia, with China now producing more tourists than any other nation on Earth. This has caused a series of cultural clashes around the globe, particularly in public restrooms.
In just one Summer, Grand Teton park ended up having to replace a dozen broken toilet seats. Almost a third of their vault restrooms were impacted. The breaks occurred when tourists stood on the seats to squat, resulting in the seats taking more stress than they were designed to handle.
The end result is unpleasant for places with high tourist visitation. The constant repairing of broken seats, as well as some spectacular messes to clean up at times, are a royal pain for maintenance staff.
Some have taken action. The Utah State Capitol Building installed signs with picture instructions on how to properly use the Western toilet. Things got so bad at Arches National Park that maintenance workers threatened to quit from the issues caused by constant toilet misuse. Arches responded to the situation trying signs, and when those didn’t work, they installed waterless squatter toilets. We’ve reached out to both the Utah Capitol and Arches, and they say they are happy with how those solutions have worked for them.
However, it is not always an easy solution for everyone. We asked a maintenance worker in Glen Canyon National Recreation area about the problems they were having with people squatting:
Green Flush: What problems have you encountered with people squatting on top of toilet risers or toilets?
NPS Maintenance Worker: The main issue we have faced with people squatting on top of the toilet risers are when they stand and try to “aim” their feces or urine into the toilet below them; a slew of both feces and urine end up all over the walls, toilet, and floor. The time it now takes our staff to clean the restrooms has in most cases doubled.
Additionally, we must now replace the toilet seats at a greater rate on each unit as they break from the extra weight of the entire person squatting on them.
A small issue that comes up often is also the fact that the toilet seats are stained and become brownish-black as a result of shoe after shoe rubbing grime into the toilet seat material itself. This in and of itself isn’t an issue for user function, but even after the toilet is cleaned it looks to the next user as though the toilet is dirty, despite just being cleaned.
Green Flush: How effective have the “Sit don’t squat” signs been?
NPS Maintenance Worker: We have tried using the “universal language” of pictures- some with lines going through them showing the correct or incorrect way and others with green (YES) colored for correct and red (NO) colored for incorrect. Unfortunately, these signs have not resulted in behavioral changes.
Green Flush: Have you heard of anyone getting hurt as a result of squatting on top of a toilet or toilet riser?
NPS Maintenance Worker: At this point in time we have had no reported injuries that I am personally aware of at our location.
Green Flush: We did a little research on Google and it appears the NPS is already providing squatter toilets at Arches National Park. I spoke with their chief of facilities and maintenance, John Lewis, who told me that CXT now provides them vault toilets that have both a toilet riser and a squatter toilet.
NPS Maintenance Worker: I am aware of the CXT version of their vault style toilet. We had one installed at one of our locations. It became a complete disgusting mess, despite being cleaned 2-3 times a day, due to the fact there was no water to cleanse the squatter. It left us feeling that we were better off with a regular toilet. We took them out after three days due to the extreme unsanitary condition in and around the squatter. We felt that without the water it just isn’t doable to have the dry CXT squatters in at this time.
Green Flush: Anything else you would like to add?
NPS Maintenance Worker: One issue I would like to add is that none of our employees have been able to understand is why groups of our Asian visitors like to use our single stall restrooms together. We have constant issues with there being mostly urine but sometimes feces as well located in the corners of our vault toilets. I have personally witnessed multiple times groups of all men or all women go into the single vaults together. They tend to unroll toilet paper and place it on the floor and then proceed to urinate on it.
It could be because we are not providing the type of squat pots they are used to. It’s just easier to place paper on the floor and squat over that rather than balance on the toilet. Perhaps this may also explain why we have not had any injuries reported as they may help each other climb up on the toilet and balance.
As you can see, there really isn’t an easy answer here. Some (Utah State Capitol) had success with signs, but national parks less so. (This might be because the Capitol Building restrooms are vastly more prestigious than a waterless restroom in the desert, and therefore people are more likely to do as asked.) One national park (Arches) had success with a waterless squatter, but nearby Glen Canyon National Park did not. Different solutions may apply for different places.
This might seem like an odd circumstance given how ingrained the toilet is from our Western point of view. How could someone use a toilet wrong? As it turns out, Western style toilets aren’t as widespread around the globe as you might imagine. In East Asia, people have been squatting over a hole in the ground for millennia. It’s what they know.
(While it is a somewhat difficult and seemingly unusual way of doing one’s business, there’s evidence to suggest that squatting is actually the more correct way for one’s bowels to be oriented. Going from the “natural way” of squatting to the unnatural way of sitting when you aren’t used to it could lead to difficulties, making the decision to insist on squatting totally understandable.)
Culture is hard to change, and even if you succeed in changing the culture of one tourist, the next day they’ll be replaced by a new tourist who isn’t familiar with the phrase “when in Rome, do as Romans do.” The constant stream of new people makes effective culture change impossible. For this reason, tourist destinations around the globe have learned that it is easier for them to adapt to their tourists than it is for a never-ending stream of tourists to adapt to them.
In conclusion, the most pragmatic solution is to assume that tourist behavior is unlikely to change (in most cases) from just a sign on the wall. Providing a squatter toilet with water as an alternative option is probably the safest bet. If you are feeling adventurous, you could even try one of those squatter/sit toilet hybrids. If water is not available, you could do a waterless squatter like Arches did, but know that doing so can still be a real headache for your maintenance crew. Because these are unique toilets, it is probably best to plan ahead when constructing them, as they are not easy to plumb or retrofit into existing restrooms.