Shortage of Sanitary Bins in Northern Ireland’s Public Toilets
2nd November 2018
They may not be as appealing as a city library, but public toilets are an essential part of our daily lives. Yet despite the importance of these facilities, many of our public toilets are being neglected, both by councils and the public. A recent poll revealed that over a third of us would prefer to pay the price of a drink in a restaurant or cafe in order to use their facilities, rather than use a free public toilet.
Of all the public toilets in the UK, those in Northern Ireland have been ranked as the worst with regards to cleanliness. The city of Lisburn ranked the lowest, with a score of 2.1 out of 10.
A key factor may be that several of Northern Ireland’s cities and counties have no sanitary bins installed in any of their public facilities, an underappreciated element of maintaining cleanliness in public toilets. Adequate sanitary waste disposal is a crucial factor in making these toilets both cleaner and more palatable to the public.
Council Accountability for Sanitary Waste Disposal
The council most affected by this lack of sanitary waste disposal is Newry, Mourne and Down, in which none of the 31 public toilets have sanitary bins installed.
The council has stated that it does not have a legal obligation to provide public toilets, let alone sanitary bins. However, Raymond Martin from the British Toilet Association has expressed that although councils have no statutory obligation to provide these services, adequate public facilities (including sanitary bins) should be treated as a moral imperative.
Newry, Mourne and Down’s negligence of sanitary disposal is not an isolated incident, however. Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon council has sanitary bins installed in just 16 of its 26 toilets, while Antrim and Newtownabbey, which has only 13 public toilets, has sanitary bins installed in just seven of these.
Within Northern Ireland as a whole, 11 councils provide a total of 258 public toilets. Of those, only 160 have sanitary bins installed in them.
According to Katrina McDonnell of charity Homeless Period Belfast, sanitary bins are not being treated as a priority due to the taboo that still surrounds the topic of menstruation. She believes that many councils do not believe that sufficient sanitary waste disposal is a serious issue.
Issues With Cleanliness in Public Toilets
Inconvenience to the general public and tourists is not the only downside to a lack of sanitary bins in these areas. With no adequate sanitary waste disposal in place, women are more likely to flush used sanitary products down the toilet, instead of disposing of them elsewhere. This not only places a huge strain on the environment but also risks causing blockages, which can in turn put facilities out of order.
An equally problematic outcome would be sanitary waste being left on toilet floors, which will increase complaints and maintenance costs. In the worst case scenario, this could also attract rodents and other pests to public toilets.
Lack of Funding for Sanitary Waste
With council funding being cut, finances have been the biggest roadblock to installing sanitary bins in every public toilet in Northern Ireland. It’s not just costly to provide sanitary bins for every public toilet; the cost of regularly disposing of the waste, especially in places with high volumes of people, would also be a long-term financial commitment.
However, the repercussions of not providing sanitary bins could lead to higher spending in the long term. The cost of blockages due to flushed sanitary products, for example, could have bigger financial consequences in the long run. This is especially true of areas in which public toilets are old, and the plumbing is more fragile.
Providing Solutions for Public Toilets
Until recently, some of Northern Ireland’s councillors were not even aware of the severe sanitary bin shortage in public toilets across the country. Thankfully, many are now reviewing their public toilet facilities to make them more accessible to people in need of sanitary waste disposal.
In areas where sufficient funding may not exist to provide sanitary bins in every toilet, councillors are encouraging their councils to install sanitary bins only in busier areas. However, many councils have already begun to place a much greater emphasis on public toilets and the need for sanitary bins. Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council, and Lisburn and Castlereagh Council have said that they aim to have sanitary bins fitted in every single public toilet – particularly good news for Lisburn.
Although local cafes and restaurants may benefit from the public’s need for clean facilities, solutions need to be found in order to maintain clean public toilets, with sanitary waste disposal available for everyone. This won’t just prevent any possible environmental problems – it will also ensure that these facilities are a convenience for the general public, and not just a last resort.