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Washroom trends: 2023

Published 15th December, 2022 by Neil Nixon

Washroom trends: 2023

As we prepare for the New Year, Stuart Hands from Tork manufacturer Essity looks at the washroom market and considers the types of decisions that customers might need to make when equipping their toilets this year.

The shadow of COVID-19 has lifted – for the moment, at least. Lockdowns have ended, pubs and restaurants have reopened and everything is back to 'normal'. Or is it?

The pandemic has left behind an indelible mark on our society and has radically changed our behaviours. COVID-19 may no longer be the deadly threat it once was, but many of us are still nervous about contracting this illness – or any other – when entering a public space. And our anxiety has only been exacerbated during the winter months. A tough flu season coupled with other emerging threats such as Strep A have done nothing to reassure us about the safety of crowds.

Meanwhile, the cost of living crisis has left everyone strapped for cash while employers are struggling to recruit staff following the pandemic and Brexit. And the worsening climate crisis is leading to renewed efforts among businesses to come up with environmentally-friendly products and solutions.

So, how are all these issues impacting on the public washroom?

Anyone responsible for providing a washroom facility today – whether it is a council, a restaurant, a shopping centre or a bar – needs to try to cut costs wherever they can. But staff shortages, hygiene worries and environmental concerns are all serving to complicate the issue. So washrooms now need to be easy to service, sustainably run and safe to use as well as being cost-efficient.

On the upside, however, washrooms have moved on dramatically since the pandemic began. Most toilets were closed altogether during the 2020 lockdown because very few people were out and about. Then when the hospitality sector slowly re-opened, different models were adopted to help keep people safe.

These models usually incorporated some sort of one-way system – which was often a real challenge in spaces that were already cramped. Sometimes the washroom operator would simply tape up every other wash hand basin and urinal so that no-one could use them. But this simply increased the length of the queues outside while also impacting on customer satisfaction.

Some washrooms adopted a 'one person inside at any one time' rule. But venues often forgot to put vacant/engaged signs on the outer door and if they did, people would forget to use them. So this policy led to a great deal of hesitancy as people loitered outside toilet blocks, uncertain as to whether or not they should go in. And these socially-distanced toilets still needed staff to service them and perhaps an extra employee on hand to ensure that people were keeping to the rules.

Now that lockdowns have ended, most washrooms have returned to something close to normal. But many of them are retaining a few sensible safeguards to boost the user’s confidence.

Hand sanitiser units were installed in many public washrooms both inside the premises and at the exits during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no reason why these need to be removed since they signal a belt-and-braces approach that helps to inspire confidence among nervous visitors. It is also a good idea to leave one-way floor markers in place for guidance along with signs reminding people not to invade each other’s space. And the doors and windows should be left open for ventilation where the weather allows to provide further reassurance.

However, infection concerns are just one of today’s problems. Budgets are currently tight which means that shrewd decisions need to be made when fitting out a washroom. Since labour makes up a large proportion of washroom costs it is important to ensure that all washrooms are easy to service and quick to clean. And this makes even more sense in light of the current chronic staff shortages.

Ideally the washroom will have been designed to be easy to maintain in the first place. All floors and walls should preferably be made up of smooth, continuous surfaces or lined with large tiles since these will be easier to clean than smaller tiles with numerous grout lines and crevices. Labour and product costs can also be reduced by installing high-capacity dispensers that are designed to control consumption. These should also be easy to open, easy to clean and quick to refill to minimise the amount of maintenance required.

Dispensers that can be opened via a push-button - or with a universal key in areas where pilferage or vandalism are an issue – will speed up the cleaner’s job and help to reduce costs. These units should be designed to give out only one shot of soap or sheet of paper at a time to reduce the number of service checks required. And they should have a smooth, curved design to make them quick and easy to wipe clean.

Bulk fill soap dispensers need to be manually refilled – a task that can be both messy and time-consuming while also ramping up labour costs. Soap should therefore be supplied in cartridges that can be snapped quickly into place.

Jumbo toilet rolls offer a high-capacity solution but need to be periodically checked to ensure that none of them has been allowed to run out. They also make it easy for the washroom visitor to tear off a long sheet of paper at a time. And cleaners may be tempted to replace a roll before it has been completely used up to avoid having to make a repeat visit, which can be time-consuming while also leading to paper being wasted.

Again, toilet paper systems that naturally reduce consumption and that can be topped up at any time will help to solve these problems. Consumption control systems will also tick the washroom operator’s 'sustainability box' because they will reduce the amount of waste produced. And further sustainability gains can be made if washroom providers choose to have their hand towels taken away and recycled.

Tork PaperCircle - the world’s first paper hand towel recycling service - is a scheme whereby used washroom hand towels are picked up from a building and taken to local Essity mills. They are then turned into new tissue products. Venues can reduce the carbon footprint of their paper hand towels by at least 40% [1] compared with current waste handling options by signing up for Tork PaperCircle. And this will tap into businesses’ sustainability policies while also providing a compelling environmental message to customers.

Combining high levels of hygiene with ease of maintenance, strong sustainability values and low cost is a big ask for any washroom facility. But this can be achieved via a combination of smart design, shrewd management and intelligent purchasing decisions.

[1] Based on a Life Cycle Assessment for Europe, where the avoided processes have been taken into account, conducted by Essity and verified by IVL, Swedish Environmental Research Institute Ltd, 2017.

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