According to a recent report, Hong Kong’s public toilets in tourist spots will be receiving a “hi-tech” makeover. The new toilets and the accompanying technology will be part of a pilot run that aims to overhaul conditions in the city’s public conveniences and improve their tarnished image.
The Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene told lawmakers at a special Legislative Council Finance Committee meeting that the government was examining different ways to improve conditions in public toilets, such as using advanced air purifying and flushing water treatment technology.
Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary announced in February 2019 that HK$600 million (US$76.9 million) would be invested into refurbishing 240 public toilets – a third of the city’s total number – over the next five years, equivalent to HK$2.5 million per facility.
It was noted that when it comes to refurbishing the public toilets, there are four aims: they must be dry – especially the floors – odourless, spotless and easy to maintain.
The Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene announced the refurbishment plan at a Legco Finance Committee meeting.
Several public toilets on The Peak and in Tsuen Wan, Mong Kok and Lan Kwai Fong will be among the first to try out different hi-tech systems.
At facilities on The Peak and in Tsuen Wan, a technology called nano confined catalytic oxidation – a filtering system which helps break down odour particles in the air into water, carbon dioxide and other harmless substances – would be used, it was noted.
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The system is a patented technology invented by a team from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and has been used in areas such as food processing factories in the city.
Lau was responding to concerns raised by several lawmakers over the poor hygiene, outdated designs and lacklustre management of public toilets.
A government official stated that while the new aesthetic is important, the main focus is the software. Moreover, important questions to be answered include: is there enough ventilation? Is there enough manpower to clean them?
A tourism sector lawmaker stated that now that public toilets are moving towards high technology, using big data and smart facilities. In addition, the government can also consider such facilities in tourist areas so that the city can change its international image for the better.
Other measures include installing public toilets on Sai Yee Street in Mong Kok equipped with technology that injects ozone into flushing water, which helps kill bacteria and reduce foul smells.
Officials are also looking into the feasibility of installing air conditioners and dehumidifiers in facilities in the city’s popular Lan Kwai Fong nightlife district and a “three-in-one sink” in The Peak’s public toilets where users can wash, soap and dry their hands in the same basin.
It was noted that if the pilot runs were successful, the government planned to install them in other public conveniences across the city.
A legislator urged the government to improve toilets in tourist areas to give the city an image change.
The department manages 799 public toilets, 207 of which are heavily used, with a rate of more than 300 visitors a day. In 2018, the government received 2,626 complaints about public toilet and bathhouse services.
A social welfare sector lawmaker also raised the issue of attendants being forced to work and stay in subpar conditions within the public toilets.
It was brought to officials’ attention that the attendant rooms are currently large enough to fit a mop, a broom and other miscellaneous supplies. There is no ventilation and they’re stuck in a stuffy environment and it’s very unhygienic.
Other than those four aims, the social welfare lawmaker suggested that the government include ensuring that attendants’ rooms be less cramped and well-ventilated.
While the refurbishments will take time to begin, it is encouraging that the HKSAR Government is investing in better lavatory facilities via innovative technologies.