What’s going on with the paper?

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I received the following email from a manager at The Spot for the Faculty of Business and Economics at the University of Melbourne.

Dear Staff

Please note hand towel dispensers will no longer be refilled. Please use the electric hand dryer for drying hands.

This is to avoid toilet blockages.

Now you may ask why I am reading such things as I do not have an office in that building. A reasonable question but the toilet issues in The Spot have long intrigued me and it is not the first time I have blogged about them. You may also ask why I am posting internal emails. Well, I’m not as I have long resigned my honorary position in that Faculty so by continuing to send me emails I believe that counts as public disclosure. (Also, if this post creates any sort of issue I am likely to be removed from that email list in an efficient manner. So it will work out well, for me.)

But back to the email. The first sentence is a statement of fact. The Spot is getting rid of towels and relying on electric hand dryers. Now you might have thought that there were good reasons for this including saving cost and helping the environment. Of course, those might be completely wrong and this move involves an increased cost and a poorer environment. We will never really know because the second sentence contained what was purported to be the explanation. Namely, “to avoid toilet blockages.”

Now I am guessing that most “Staff” would have been happy to accept the pronouncement of the change  in drying configuration in Spot bathrooms without further explanation. Some may be upset but not too many would have thought about what the stated explanation implied: people are going to the bathroom at The Spot. They then wash their hands (which is, to be sure, a good thing). The then turn around and return to their stall and deposit the paper towels in the toilet before flushing again. You see the problem. That would require — as my children well know — another round of washing, drying and paper towels presumably ending up in the toilet.

Again, a number of possibilities follow from here. First, it could be that toilet depositing towel users are just going one round which means there is a hygiene issue. Second, and possibly more likely, is that the vicious cycle I have identified above continues until the bathroom in question runs out of paper towels. Of course, even in that case, we have an end-game problem with regard to hygene. Note, however, that this also implies that the whole towel mess may be caused by just one person who depletes the towel supply with every visit.

Some of you might — at this point — be casting doubt upon the explanation for change in drying technologies at The Spot. That perhaps toilets were not getting blocked up or worse they will continue to get blocked up by toilet paper — the usual culprit around the world for this type of situation. In other words, that the problem won’t be solved by these drastic changes.

Before we jump to conclusions that perhaps the powers at be at the University of Melbourne are playing with “Staff” emotions, there is a final explanation. That is, that there is too little toilet paper at The Spot. They may routinely run out and, you have to be a trained economist to see these possibilities, users go to the closest substitute. In this case, they — thankfully — deposit them in the toilets after use. Then they wash and dry without any adverse implications.

However, think about what that means now that the paper towels have been removed. Go on, think. Suffice it to say, you may want to avoid The Spot for a while until they sort this one out.

5 Responses to "What’s going on with the paper?"
  1. I once heard the principle of a language college complain about exactly the same issue.  The students, it seemed, were..er..using the hand-towels to silence their business.  The students weren’t being wasteful so much as they were being modest.

    Perhaps the solution is white noise or music in public toilets?

  2. If you send me the email address that’s on the list, I can probably get you removed (check my LinkedIn profile for supporting evidence).
    Oddly, I did not get this email.
    There is plenty of toilet paper in the building. I’ve been based on two different floors and have never had that problem.
    The toilets are not to my knowledge being blocked by toilet paper.

  3. I missed the original blog on “The Spot” toilets. A shame since I would have pointed to the short but interesting article here:
    http://www.theorsociety.com/orshop/(hplfs4ixw5affi4523rpwj45)/orcontent.aspx?inc=article_orinsight_toilets.htm

    which uses queueing theory to determine optimal numbers of toilets.

    Perhaps a follow up is required on waiting times when toilet paper supplies run out and either individual cubicles become unusable or paper towels must be substituted? Interestingly two weeks ago I had to queue for ages (well OK about 10 minutes) because 2 of the 3 women’s toilets at a very popular picnic spot were out of paper and therefore effectively unusable. “The Spot” may run into the same problems…

  4. For the two people who are interested, students and/or staff are using paper towels as seat-liners. The paper towels don’t break down like toilet paper does, causing blockages.

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