Are M’sia’s Public Toilets Really The Worst In The World?

(Malaysian Digest) – “But most of the times, the problem lies with the mentality of the users of these public toilets. They feel like the toilets are not their responsibility, so it’s fine for them to leave it dirty, as someone else will clean it for them”

There are many commemorative days in the world that we celebrate such as Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, and there are even days dedicated to some of our inspiring world leaders like the Gandhi Jayanti Day, or the Nelson Mandela Day. But how many of you know that among all the days that we celebrate and observe, there is one called the World Toilet Day?

According to its official homepage, World Toilet Day falls on November 19, which is this coming Sunday. And although it sounds humorous to some, it carries a really important meaning as it is aimed at solving the global sanitation crisis which affects more than 4.5 billion people all over the world.

And this is one crisis that we cannot turn a blind eye on as non-existent or improper sanitation systems have resulted in communities living in constant danger of waste contamination, affecting health, spreading diseases and worst, causing death.

Which is why the United Nations designated the day since 2013, to create awareness aside accomplishing its Sustainable Development Goals to ensure everyone has access to a safely-managed household toilet by 2030, and making sanitation central to eradicating extreme poverty.

One of the countries with a well-known toilet problem is India. BBC highlighted half of India’s 1.2 billion population have phones in their homes, but no toilets. According to census 2011 data, only 46.9% of the 246.6 million households have toilets while 49.8% defecate in the open. The remaining 3.2% use public toilets. In stark contrast, 63.2% of households in India have telephones.

Meanwhile, here in Malaysia, we can consider ourselves lucky to be blessed with proper facilities and good sanitation – with almost every household and public space being equipped with toilets. However, with the facilities we have in place, Malaysians seem to have a problem with keeping their toilets clean.

Will You Use Public Toilets?

A public toilet located at the Dataran Merdeka Carpark

A public toilet located at the Dataran Merdeka Carpark

Even a simple Google search will show shameful results, especially in regards to our public toilets. In fact, a website called The Travel Manuel run by a group of South Africans, ranked Malaysia as the world’s worst toilets.

Though that might somewhat be an overstatement, even our people shared the same sentiments about our public toilets.

Idzwan, recounted one of the most disgusting moments in his life, when he found an unwanted surprise in the toilet.

“I lifted up the lid of the toilet to find faeces still floating in it. Then I tried to flush it but of course, the toilet’s flushing mechanism isn’t working.

“That has to be the worst experience I had with public toilets, which is why now I always do my business before going out.”

Zulhilmi said the same thing as well, and admitted that he tries to avoid public toilets whenever he can.

“The main reason why I never use a public toilet is due to the cleanliness. It’s terribly maintained and some of it doesn’t even work.

“Broken pipes, malfunctioning flushing mechanism, clogged sinks and drains, there’s just too many issues with public toilets for me to feel comfortable using it.”

Firdaus puts a humorous spin on the issue by saying:

“Using a public toilets in Malaysia is like playing a mystery box game. You never know what you’re going to end up with until you open up the lid.

“Sometimes you will see that it’s unflushed, sometimes it’s clogged up with toilet papers, and some don’t even have water, but sometimes, you can get a properly working, clean public toilet. And on those days, count your blessings because you’re among the lucky ones.”

There are some who sworn off public toilets altogether, like Shahira:

“I never use any public toilets at all. There’s just too much uncertainty regarding public toilet’s safety and hygiene.”

And Fairuz states that even when a public toilet seems clean and can be used, there’s still the question regarding its plumbing system.

“Sometimes, although a toilet looks clean enough to use, some of them still have clogged toilet bowls.

“Once, I found out that the toilet bowl was clogged after using the toilet. I tried flushing and then the unthinkable happened.”

Malaysian Digest went to some public toilets in prominent locations and found that what our interviewees said was in fact spot on.

During our inspection, we found one of the worst toilets to be a public toilet at a petrol station located near the MRR2 highway, before the exit to Karak highway.

The toilet was unhygienic to say the least, and based on our observation, the facility is clearly not well maintained. And this is not an isolated case either, as almost all of the petrol stations we stopped by had toilets that were not fit for use.

Why Our Public Toilets Are So Dirty

Speaking with Nazmi Nasir who runs a cleaning service business, in his shocking reply to us he revealed that toilets in petrol stations are in fact very well maintained.

“Clean up routine for every petrol station’s toilets are done hourly and we must comply with the checklist to clean the toilet every hour,” said Nazmi, adding that all public toilets will be cleaned by the hour.

He however acknowledges despite the hourly cleaning, many public toilets are left in an unhygienic and dirty state – which he links to two factors.

“Sometimes the issue is with the maintenance of the facility. If you don’t have the correct tools and properly skilled workers, the toilets won’t be as clean as it is supposed to be.

“But most of the times, the problem lies with the mentality of the users of these public toilets. They feel like the toilets are not their responsibility, so it’s fine for them to leave it dirty, as someone else will clean it for them,” he explained.

Nazmi also shared some of the terrible habits of toilet-goers that he has encountered.

A toilet bowl clogged with tissues

A toilet bowl clogged with tissues“Once, one of my cleaners found that the toilet bowl was cracked due to someone squatting on it.

“And don’t get me started on how many times my cleaners had to clean a toilet bowl that was clogged due to people flushing down too many tissues in it,” he recollected.

These encounters are far from rare as Nazmi confesses they come across such disgusting instances almost every hour of their clean-up session.

At the end of the day, Nazmi stresses that it is the public’s responsibility to ensure the toilets they use are kept clean and reminded the public to improve their mentality to care for our public toilets.

His sentiments are echoed by a Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) officer, who wants to only be identified as Akmal.

Part of Akmal’s duty is to ensure that the public toilets run by DBKL are well maintained by the cleaners and are usable, though he admits that the task sometimes, can be too much to handle.

“The toilets run by DBKL is due for daily cleaning, but even the cleaners complain to me that the toilets are too dirty for them to clean,” said Akmal.

Much like Nazmi, Akmal is certain the problem lies with the users of the public toilets.

“The toilets do not clean themselves, there are people who clean them. So the public cannot misuse it as it will create trouble for the cleaners,” Akmal declared while pointing out that the public need to be educated on the proper usage of public toilets.

To help ensure the cleanliness of our public toilets, Nazmi too agrees that the best way is to educate the public about the importance of toilet cleanliness.

“Putting up signs might help, but most people still make a mess in public toilets because they believe that they are anonymous. In light of this, perhaps we can implement a system that enables us to track them,” he suggested.

“Nevertheless, our younger generation ought to be taught that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable, and only by doing so we can ensure a first class mentality among our citizens,” he added.

Akmal further mentioned that DBKL has tried multiple ways to maintain the public toilets, however all its efforts prove fruitless.

“One of them was the introduction of the Automatic Street Toilets (AST) a few years back. The toilets were designed to be self-cleaning, touted to help reduce the cost of cleaning the toilets.

“But due to misuse and vandalism, the toilets were frequently out of order. DBKL had to employ a janitor to supervise in cleaning the toilets, but the issues kept recurring. Sometimes, we found toilet doors being broken, the sinks clogged, among many other issues.

“This led to DBKL tearing many of the ASTs down. The upkeep of the ASTs were just too high. Now, there are only a few of them left,” Akmal relayed.

Previously there were more than 20 ASTs in the city, but now, after being demolished, Akmal shared that sadly, there are only eight left.

Our Toilets Are A Reflection Of Our Country’s Image

One of the few Automatic Street Toilets (AST) left in Kuala Lumpur

One of the few Automatic Street Toilets (AST) left in Kuala Lumpur

Plumbing and sanitation for toilets delivers clean water and removes waste and has protected populations from communicable disease throughout history.

Saiful Karim, a lecturer in Applied Geology – Science and Engineering in Curtin University Sarawak, stresses on the need for the public to see the importance of keeping our toilets clean.

“The most important factor of ensuring that a toilet is properly ventilated clean is of course, for health reasons. Toilets are a breeding ground for bacteria and it can cause multiple health issues,” he states.

Saiful also highlighted the importance of not flushing down tissue papers or sanitary pads because it will affect the plumbing and sanitation of the toilets, subsequently clogging them up.

“Too many people believe that it’s okay to flush down their toilet papers, tissues, cigarette butts, and even their sanitary pads down the toilet.

“All of these will create a blockage in the pipes of the toilet, which will cause the toilets to be clogged,” he detailed.

Saiful added that aside public convenience, public toilets reflect on the image of the country, especially when the tourists use it.

“We don’t want foreigners to remember our country for its horrible toilets, or do we?,” Saiful posed the question.

But most importantly, Saiful emphasises that the public must remember it is their civil duty to keep our toilets clean.

“People used the toilet before you, and people will be using it after you as well. So why can’t you keep it clean? We have to remember that we share our public toilets with others, therefore it’s everyone’s responsibility,” he concluded.

Taking note of what our stakeholders have relayed, we hope Malaysians can take proper care of the facilities bestowed upon us, and use our public toilets as how we would use our toilets at home. After all, public toilets belong to us all.