High toilet standards 'can flush out bad habits'

Runners posing for pictures with a giant blow-up toilet at The Urgent Run at East Coast Park yesterday. About 1,000 people took part this year, up from 350 at last year's inaugural event.
Runners posing for pictures with a giant blow-up toilet at The Urgent Run at East Coast Park yesterday. About 1,000 people took part this year, up from 350 at last year's inaugural event.ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

Mr Toilet urges building owners and agencies to ensure cleanliness to get users to change habits

Stop pointing fingers regarding the cleanliness of public restrooms. Instead, focus on how to make every toilet "as clean as Changi Airport's" - this was the call from Singapore's own Mr Toilet yesterday.

Instead of blaming users for their dirty toilet habits, building owners and national agencies should set and ensure high standards for toilets, said Mr Jack Sim, the founder of the World Toilet Organisation(WTO), a non-profit organisation that aims to flush out unsanitary toilet conditions worldwide.

And when users see how clean toilets are kept, they too will change any bad habits to ensure that standards are maintained, he explained.

"When mindsets change and people come to expect every toilet to be clean, they too will react to unclean toilets. Then, we will move on from the blame game to actually making clean toilets happen," he said.

Dr William Wan, general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, linked the idea to the "broken windows syndrome", a theory that if a broken window is left unrepaired, people will be tempted to break nearby windows. "When you see clean toilets, you're less likely to make them dirty. Likewise, when you see dirty toilets, you'll think, they're dirty already, no point trying to be clean," he explained.

Mr Sim was speaking on the sidelines of an annual charity fun run yesterday. The Urgent Run at East Coast Park drew 1,000 participants, up from 350 at last year's inaugural event. Participants even did a "big squat" before the 5km run was flagged off, in a gesture to show their solidarity with the nearly one billion people who defecate in the open due to a lack of toilets.

The run calls for urgent action to end what Mr Sim labelled the sanitation crisis - 2.4 billion people are still without access to proper sanitation, he explained.

This is the first of 25 similar events worldwide to mark World Toilet Day, which falls on Nov 19.

Yesterday's run also featured a sanitation-themed carnival, live performances and an exhibition. Some participants came decked out in toilet rolls and carried toilet brushes for a fancy dress competition.

The event also aims to get people talking about raising funds for WTO's sanitation projects. This includes a $1.8 billion project to build more than six million toilets in India by 2018, under a partnership with the local government of Andhra Pradesh.

Student Alex Tay, 19, who took part in the run, said he has grown to expect public toilets, especially those in hawker centres, to be dirty. "I guess if it's clean, I will try to keep it clean too, to be considerate to other people," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2015, with the headline 'High toilet standards 'can flush out bad habits''. Print Edition | Subscribe