How might we increase information and awareness about bathroom etiquette in the UK by nudging tourists towards adopting responsible flushing practices that protect the environment and improve hygiene to reduce sewage blockages and maintenance costs?
Methods & Tools
Access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene is the most basic human need for health and well-being. Billions of people will lack access to these basic services in 2030 unless progress quadruples. Demand for water is rising owing to rapid population growth, urbanisation and increasing water needs from agriculture, industry, and energy sectors.
Even though much progress has been made to tackle these issues, much more innovation in the sector is required, not only in terms of technological solutions but also in terms of social and community engagement. It demands an enterprising and often truly entrepreneurial approach.
To Flush or Not To Flush was created in partnership with the United Nations and Design for Good Alliance, a non-profit alliance of leading global organisations that will directly harness the creative talent of thousands of designers to design and deliver positive impact against the United Nations's Sustainable Development Goals.
This project addressed the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6): Water and Sanitation. This goal focuses on ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. The challenge at hand was substantial, with billions of people worldwide still lacking access to these basic services. The urgency to quadruple the current rate of progress by 2030 to achieve universal access was significant, and we were tasked with innovating within this vast and critical space.
Among the many facets of this issue, our team decided to concentrate on an often overlooked but impactful problem: the improper disposal of items in toilets, specifically toilet paper, and the resulting costly repair and maintenance. While it might seem like a small piece of the broader issue, we found that it had significant implications for sanitation infrastructure and costs the UK £100 million.
The central question guiding our project was: "How might we increase information and awareness about bathroom etiquette in the UK by nudging tourists towards adopting responsible flushing practices that protect the environment and improve hygiene to reduce sewage blockages and maintenance costs?"
Our goals and objectives for this project were:
1. Raise Awareness: Increase understanding about the importance of responsible bathroom etiquette, specifically concerning the disposal of toilet paper and other items, among both residents and tourists in the UK.
2. Design for Behavioural Change: Develop a service that could effectively nudge individuals towards adopting practices that reduce the risk of sewage blockages and associated costs.
3. Community Engagement and Education: Foster a sense of shared responsibility within the community to ensure sustainable management of water and sanitation resources. This includes educating individuals about the potential harm caused by improper disposal practices and encouraging them to alter their behaviors for the collective good.
4. Stakeholder Management: Collaborate with local organisations, businesses, and government agencies to ensure the effective implementation and wide reach of our proposed solution.
These goals aligned with the broader objectives of SDG 6 by focusing on improving water quality (SDG 6.3) and supporting the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management (SDG 6.8). By addressing a significant but often overlooked aspect of sanitation, we aimed to contribute to the larger mission of ensuring universal access to water and sanitation services.
Our research was two-pronged, incorporating both desk research and user research to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the problem at hand.
Our desk research revealed alarming statistics:
35% of people in the UK admitted to flushing items down the toilet that they shouldn't have, leading to 300,000 sewer blockages annually.
In popular tourist destinations, local authorities reported an increase in blockages due to tourists flushing inappropriate items.
Wet wipes were a significant culprit, causing 75% of blockages. This was despite 88% of people being aware of the harm they cause to the environment.
These findings highlighted the need for more robust public awareness campaigns and solutions that could promote proper bathroom etiquette and flushing practices.
We conducted user research through interviews and observational studies:
Interviewed 14 people from 8 different countries.
Engaged with 8 tourists visiting London.
Inspected toilets at multiple locations, including the Royal College of Art, Westfield Shopping Centres, Heathrow Airport, City Airport, tube stations, and various restaurants in the city.
Spoke with 3 toilet cleaners.
Advertising material is ineffective, and fails to engage and Bathroom etiquette and flushing practices vary significantly due to historical and cultural norms, infrastructure and technological differences, and environmental factors. the value of the service, leading to decreased visibility for FBD and those in need of its services.
Tourists often lack awareness about cross-cultural bathroom practices and flushing etiquette, leading to unintentional sewage blockages and other issues.
These insights were critical in shaping our approach to the problem. We realized that the challenge was not just about creating a new service, but about bridging a cultural and informational gap.
The understanding of stakeholders, user personas, and the user journey allows us to better design our interventions, ensuring they are effective, engaging, and user-friendly. This holistic view of the service design process ensures we address the needs and behaviors of all involved, leading to more sustainable and impactful solution brainstorming.
The stakeholder ecosystem for this project is diverse and complex, reflecting the multiple influences on bathroom etiquette and the wide-ranging impacts of improper flushing practices. Our primary audience is tourists visiting the UK, but our considerations extend beyond them. We also engage with plumbers and cleaners who shape and are affected by the toilet's environment.
Recognising the interconnectedness of our issue, we consider the roles of accommodations providers, transportation hubs such as airports and railway stations, and public toilet facilities, as these entities host the facilities that tourists use. The functioning of these spaces is influenced by a larger network of stakeholders, including government bodies, water management systems, water suppliers, and environmental agencies.
Based on our user research, we've developed two personas to guide our design process:
Dan is a conscientious traveler from Korea, a country where it's permissible to flush soups and broths. However, Dan is environmentally conscious and always keen to follow rules and guidelines. When unsure about the right course of action, Dan proactively seeks out information to ensure his actions are responsible and respectful.
Dani, conversely, is a free-spirited, budget-conscious traveler who prioritises convenience. For Dani, the toilet represents an easy disposal method that quickly removes waste from sight. Yet, like Dan, Dani dislikes the unavailability of bins and appreciates easily accessible free toilets.
Our tourists, Dan and Dani, embark on similar journeys once they decide to travel. Their journey starts with the decision to travel and preparation for the trip. Their first touchpoint is at their home country's airport, and the journey continues as they land at a UK airport. The next touchpoint is their accommodation in the UK, followed by public toilets as they explore the city. Their journey in the UK ends with their train ride to Paris, marking their final touchpoint in the UK.
Our ideation process led to three key interventions to promote responsible flushing practices among tourists in the UK. These interventions were designed to address multiple touchpoints and create a comprehensive strategy for information dissemination and behavior change.
1. Information Dissemination
Our first intervention was developing a series of signs, stickers, and posters to educate tourists about appropriate flushing practices. Strategically placed in various public and private restrooms, these materials aimed to:
Increase awareness and promote positive habits.
Encourage conversations about toilet practices.
Foster a sense of community and shared responsibility.
Reduce potential stigma associated with discussing bathroom habits.
Promote cultural awareness and understanding.
We focused on relatable language, inclusivity, and humuor to engage people from diverse cultures effectively. A QR code was also included to direct users to a digital version of the information.
2. Digital Intervention
he QR code leads to a webpage providing guidelines on proper toilet usage in the UK. The page is available in multiple languages to accommodate tourists from various regions. The digital approach was designed to:
Provide easy access to information.
Avoid potential embarrassment or confusion.
Encourage respectful use of shared public spaces.
We intended to integrate this digital intervention with The Great British Public Toilet Map, an existing resource with extensive reach and data on accessible toilets across the UK.
3. Redesigned Waste Bins:
The final intervention aimed to encourage proper waste disposal and discourage inappropriate disposal of items in toilets. We proposed redesigning waste bins at key locations, such as public toilets, railway and tube stations, airports, and malls. The goal was to make it more likely for people to dispose of items like wet wipes and tampons correctly, reducing the chances of them being flushed down the toilet.
As we are in the process of implementing and testing our intervention strategies, we will be establishing partnerships with key collaborators. Here's our planned approach:
1. Information Dissemination:
We will partner with local authorities, transportation hubs, and business owners to display our informational materials in restrooms frequented by tourists.
2. Digital Intervention:
We plan to collaborate with the team behind The Great British Public Toilet Map to integrate our digital resources into their platform. We will also work with web developers to ensure our information is easy to access and understand, and translators to provide the information in multiple languages.
3. Redesigned Waste Bins:
Our strategy involves coordinating with public facility managers to place our redesigned waste bins in strategic locations. Additionally, we aim to establish partnerships with waste management companies to handle the increased volume of disposed waste properly.
People may resist changing their habits, even when presented with new information. To overcome this, we will continually reinforce our messaging and use nudges to prompt behavior change.
Our materials must be understandable to tourists from various countries. To address this, we will translate our materials into multiple languages and use universally understood symbols.
With an expected increase in the use of waste bins, maintaining cleanliness could be challenging. We plan to schedule regular cleaning and may hire additional staff if necessary.
The ultimate measure of success would be a reduction in the number of sewage blockages. We will track this through reports from local sewage operators.
We will monitor the amount of waste correctly disposed of in the redesigned waste bins.
We plan to analyze the number of visitors to the digital resource and the time they spend on the site as a measure of their engagement level.
We will conduct surveys or interviews to gauge awareness and changes in behavior.These strategies will need to be monitored and adjusted over time to ensure the interventions are effective and meet the needs of the diverse tourist population in the UK.
Drawing from our research and insights, we can indeed conclude that restroom behaviour, while often overlooked, has far-reaching implications. This case study has shed light on the essential role of service design in driving change in such a seemingly mundane yet impactful area.
In our efforts to transform bathroom etiquette, we've examined the issue from various perspectives, considering the cultural, social, and environmental aspects. We've found that the problem doesn't lie solely in the behaviour of individuals but also in the larger systems and environments that shape this behaviour. Our interventions have been designed with this holistic view in mind, targeting not only tourists but also the broader ecosystem of stakeholders including local authorities, facility managers, and waste management companies.
Moreover, we've seen that effective communication is key. In the design of our interventions, we've taken into account language barriers, cultural nuances, and the need for clear, concise messaging. We've leveraged digital tools and strategic partnerships to broaden our reach and increase our impact.
Furthermore, we've recognised that systemic change doesn't happen overnight. It requires ongoing effort, monitoring, and adjustment. Through our proposed KPIs, we've laid out a framework for tracking our progress and making necessary improvements. We understand that we're embarking on a journey of continuous learning and adaptation.
So, while bathroom etiquette may seem like a minor aspect of travel, it is an important one that can greatly impact the tourism industry. And as we've seen, it extends beyond tourism to affect local communities, the environment, and public infrastructure. It's time for us to recognise the importance of proper flushing practices and make it a priority for both locals and tourists alike.
As the saying goes, 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do.' This is especially true when it comes to bathroom etiquette. We hope that through our efforts, we can encourage tourists and locals alike to adopt responsible flushing habits. After all, small changes in our flushing habits can have a big impact on the environment and local communities. Let's work together towards a cleaner and healthier planet.