Whether it be sanitary products or nappies, sanitary waste disposal in public washroom services is an issue that has been synonymous with women’s facilities for many years. While the issues surrounding the provision of adequate disposal facilities for women are by no means over, the lack of waste disposal facilities in men’s bathrooms is beginning to draw attention. Far from being a luxury, there are in fact environmental, social and practical reasons why this should be a priority for councils and facilities managers alike.
Public awareness of plastic pollution has grown considerably over the last few years. As a result, wet wipes have become a rather controversial item — especially when many people are still unaware that they contain plastic, and should never be flushed down the toilet.
Over 11 billion wet wipes were used in the UK last year alone, and those that are flushed can cause blockages and so-called ‘fatbergs’ in sewers, as they do not break down the way toilet paper does. Wet wipes that do not block sewage pipes end up polluting the sea, which causes tremendous damage to our wildlife.
Women are not the only ones that use wet wipes; yet on the whole, only their bathrooms are being equipped with adequate waste disposal bins for these items. It seems unreasonable to expect men to “store” their used wet wipes on their person until a suitable disposal facility can be found outside of their public washrooms. By ensuring all men’s washrooms are equipped with disposal bins, councils can decrease the environmental and financial burden that sewer and pipe blockages can create.
Wet wipes are not the only product that is wrongly flushed down the toilet every day; menstrual products account for 200,000 tonnes of of waste every year. Just like wet wipes, nearly all of these products contain plastic, and the majority of flushed tampons are ending up in our seas and on our beaches.
Menstrual products are likely the last item one would expect to be concerned about in a men’s washroom. However, much to the chagrin of some, women do use men’s facilities on occasion. There is no legislation prohibiting people from using any bathroom they wish, and with women’s bathrooms having notoriously long lines, it is not surprising that women try and sneak into the (often less busy) men’s facilities – especially in nightclubs, concerts and other places with a high volume of people.
However, there are cases in which a man may need the use of a sanitary bin. In public places where gender neutral bathrooms are not available, trans men that still menstruate and use the men’s bathroom have nowhere to dispose of their sanitary products. This has been a topic of discussion on university campuses in particular, and many young people have campaigned for adequate sanitary disposal in all bathrooms. Though no concrete statistics exist, the National Union of Students has estimated that out of 2.3 million students across universities in the UK, 28,000 are trans.
Regardless of who happens to be in need of sanitary waste disposal in a men’s bathroom, installing sanitary bins in men’s bathrooms helps to prevent any hygienic problems that could occur from poorly disposed sanitary products. Even for those who are less concerned with environmental issues, it is hard to believe any of us would buy our regular fish and chips if the cod had swallowed a tampon applicator. It is this reasoning that forced airlines to provide ashtrays in airplane toilets, despite smoking being strictly prohibited on board, just in case someone started a fire; it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Deciding who should change the baby’s nappy is a battle that, for the longest time, women were losing. In 1982, over 43% of men had said they hadn’t changed a single nappy in their life. Thankfully, by 2000, this number fell to 3%. It seems strange that with shared childcare duties becoming an expectation these days, that public washrooms have not accounted for the concept that a father may need to change his child’s nappy.
This year, a father-of-three took to Instagram to share his outrage on the lack of baby changing facilities in men’s bathrooms. The photo shows him squatting on the bathroom floor and balancing his son across his lap while trying to change him. The post quickly became viral and has led to a campaign hashtag, #squatforchange to shed light on these issues.
With a lack of nappy disposal bins, men must either change their children in women’s bathrooms in order to dispose of their waste, or carry it on their person until a suitable facility can be found. Women are also affected by this issue, as a lack of facilities in men’s bathrooms could place greater pressure on mothers to consistently take on nappy changing duties when in public.
Babies are not the only ones, however, that occasionally need their nappy changed. Bladder weakness is a condition that continues to have a large amount of stigma attached to it, and yet it affects 1 in 10 men on average.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of disposal facilities, some men do not wear the adult nappies that could bring them more freedom in their daily lives. It is thought that thousands of men even purposefully miss out on activities such as sporting events due to the fear of not making it to the toilet in time. In the most extreme cases, this could also have a negative impact on mental health, especially if bladder weakness is caused by existing medical procedures (such as prostate operations).
For those who do choose wear adult nappies, disabled bathrooms may be the only place where they can change and dispose of their waste properly. This could cause extra embarrassment and guilt, especially in busy places where a disabled person may need access to the bathroom. Installing the correct facilities not only helps men suffering from bladder weakness to lead more active lives, but also helps to challenge the stigma towards the condition.
The public awareness of the uses for waste disposal bins in men’s bathrooms is, luckily, increasing. In fact, there have already been a number of public spaces that have taken action and installed more accommodating facilities.
However, for the majority of public spaces, the truth is that men still have nowhere to dispose of the waste that they also use. By limiting waste disposal bins to women’s bathrooms, the medical and practical needs of many are being overlooked. Waste disposal is both an environmental and social issue, and it is important that these facilities be available to anyone who needs them.
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