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18 May 2020

Survey Findings on Views about the Sanitary Conditions in Public ToiletsReleased by the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at CUHK

18 May 2020

With the spread of COVID-19 around the world, public toilets have become one of the sources of virus transmission, arousing concern about their state of sanitation. In the light of this, the “Policy Research @ HKIAPS”, a research programme under the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), conducted a telephone survey in the evening from 12 to 23 of March 2020, to gauge public views on public toilets. A total of 1,006 people aged 18 or above were successfully interviewed. The results indicated that nearly 60% of the respondents regarded public toilets[1] as unsanitary, and around 80% supported the imposition of a penalty on those who violate the public toilet sanitary measures. 

The survey showed that 57.7% of the respondents were not satisfied with the sanitary conditions of public toilets, while 42.3% were satisfied. A statistical analysis (chi-square test) revealed no significant difference in gender and subjective social class. However, the views among those of different ages, levels of education, and economic status were statistically correlated, with the young (aged 18 to 29), those with higher education (tertiary or above), and those in employment being more dissatisfied with the sanitary conditions. 

Among those respondents who felt negative about the conditions, 74.3% found that having no flushing water was the main issue related to the unsanitary conditions that they encountered, 61.2% mentioned foul smells, while 55.0% pointed to slippery floors. Furthermore, around a third of the respondents complained about issues such as dirty toilet seats, clogged toilet pans or urinals, and rubbish on the floor. 

Regarding perceptions of the reasons for the unsanitary conditions, 80.1% blamed a lack of civility on the part of users, 63.7% thought that cleaners (or the frequency of cleaning) was inadequate, 56.6% thought that there were too many users, and 35.0% believed that the cause was the malfunctioning of toilet facilities. 

Assessing the effectiveness of existing measures to improve sanitary conditions, 95.0% of the respondents said that increasing the number of cleaners or the frequency of cleaning could be effective, while 82.6% suggested that technologies such as automatic flushing or automatic toilet seat cleaning could be employed. With regard to the institution of new measures aimed at improving sanitary conditions, the measure that received the most support from the respondents was the imposition of a penalty on users violating the sanitary measures in public toilets (77.1%). Then, the measures in order of support from the second to the last were: arranging primary and secondary students to clean school toilets to cultivate civility (76.6%), installing a flush alarm (75.6%), recruiting “public toilet ambassadors” to promote public toilet hygiene (61.7%), and imposing entrance fees (47.3%). 

The survey also investigated the introduction of gender-friendly and family-friendly perspectives to the design of toilets. It was found that 96.7% agreed that it would be good to increase the number of stalls in female toilets, and 91.3% agreed with the idea of increasing family-friendly facilities, such as including a nursing room or diaper changing table. In contrast, only 28.6% agreed with the provision of unisex toilets. Of these three measures, the chi-square test showed that only with regard to the suggestion that unisex toilets be provided was there a significant variance between those of different social and economic background, with young people and those with higher education being more welcoming of such a provision. 

In this survey, a total of 1,006 respondents aged 18 or above were successfully interviewed. 542 respondents came from landline numbers and the other 464 respondents from mobile numbers. There was a response rate of 39.2% for landline numbers and 46.9% for mobile numbers. The sampling error is estimated at plus or minus 3.09 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

[1] Public toilets include toilets provided by the government on the street and in public facilities, such as stadiums, cooked food centres and country parks.