A Study by SMU Reveals Singapore’s Public Toilets Dirtier Since 2016

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A nationwide study by Singapore Management University (SMU) shows a dip in public hygiene standards in toilets at coffee shops, hawker centers.

Singapore may be one of the cleanest cities in the world, but this cleanliness does not extend to all of the toilets in our coffee shops and hawker centers. A study conducted through an SMU undergraduate course from 10 January to 7 February 2020 also revealed that more than a quarter of customers interviewed said that they would not use the toilets in such eating places.

The nationwide study, whimsically named “Waterloo”, was conducted by SMU Senior Lecturer of Statistics Rosie Ching and her 157 SMU undergraduates. As part of the investigation, they also interviewed 8,217 customers and hawkers about the state of toilets in coffee shops and food centers across all postal codes in Singapore.

This year’s nationwide survey of toilet hygiene was a follow-up to the original one done in 2016 by Ms Ching and her students who also covered Singapore nationally. Both years comprised comprehensive on-site surveys of toilet attributes. The 2020 one had the new element of interviews with customers and employees’ perceptions of toilet cleanliness.

Public toilet hygiene has fallen, with the dirtiest toilets in Tuas, Telok Blangah, and Bukit Batok. Marina South tops the list again for the cleanest public toilets, followed by Tanglin and Changi.

SMU found that more than a quarter of the 5,948 customers, interviewed at the coffee shops and hawker centers where they were eating, said that they would not use the toilets there. More than 3 in 5 indicated there was a need for moderate to a complete overhaul of toilet cleanliness. While almost all (97%) of the 2,269 coffee shop and hawker center workers said that they used the toilets there, more than half stressed there was a need to improve the state of the toilets. Full interactive results can be found at www.toiletstatistics.com

Dr. Teo Ho Pin, MP for Bukit Panjang and Mayor of North-West Community Development Council, was the patron of Project Waterloo, which also had the support of the World Toilet Organisation (WTO), Public Hygiene Council (PHC), Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) and Restroom Association Singapore (RAS).

Although the COVID-19 outbreak curtailed a final small portion of the fieldwork, Ms Ching and her students successfully surveyed public toilets in 104 out of 114 hawker centers and 1181 out of 1330 coffee shops across Singapore. Waterloo was part of SMU’s Statistics-X course run by Ms Ching, which incorporates the SMU-X learning framework, applying rigorous academic processes to address real-world societal issues.

Said Ms Ching: “This was an intensely difficult and comprehensive survey of toilets and toilet users at hawker centers and coffee shops. Given Singapore’s reputation for progress and advancement, one would have expected the statistics to reveal the same for public toilet cleanliness. Although I personally harbored considerable doubt owing to the state of public toilets I had visited, it was still disheartening to see statistical analyses reveal a marked regression in toilet hygiene from 2016, and furthermore, in almost every single attribute of toilet cleanliness on average.”

“My students and I hope that our collective work in surveying, data-collection and results will spur greater action towards improving our public toilet hygiene, especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic. We absolutely need to take greater care of the well-being of our toilet cleaners as well, given the daily conditions they face in tackling dirty toilets.”

Dr Teo Ho Pin, Mayor of North West District and patron of the project commented: “Poor standard of cleanliness and hygiene of public toilets will have a serious impact on the health and well-being of our people, especially seniors. Ultimately, clean public toilets can only become a reality with the conscious efforts of users to keep them clean, which will complement robust design and maintenance guidelines.”