It is curious that given that although going to the bathroom is a basic human function, society does not make it easier for people to do so when they are out of their homes. Some activists are trying to change that, by criticizing the statement by Starbucks CEO suggesting that they might close their bathrooms to non-customers.
“Let the people go!” an activist group is telling Starbucks after the coffee chain’s boss threatened to close down its bathrooms.
The American Restroom Association is marking World Toilet Day on 19 November, an awareness-raising day started by the United Nations to celebrate toilets and advocate for proper sanitation systems, by calling on Starbucks to keep its restrooms open to the public.
While Starbucks has not officially changed its bathroom policy after Schultz’s comments, the American Restroom Association (ARA), which advocates for safe and well-designed public restrooms, notes that some Starbucks locations have closed their restrooms to the public.
Steve Soifer, the group’s president, pointed out that international plumbing codes require business establishments to keep their toilet facilities open to both visitors and customers – essentially anyone walking into their business. Such plumbing codes exist around the country, but enforcement can be non-existent.
Still, Soifer argues that Americans have few other options.
“The problem is there aren’t any other choices,” Soifer said. “You go to New York City, for example, and you’re walking around. The only places you can go are public libraries or museums. They have to keep the bathrooms open for the public. Everything else is hit-or-miss.
“Try to find city-built public toilets in New York City, they’re virtually non-existent.”
The question is whether thesse toilets should be built and maintained by governments or whether private businesses should be required to be open t the public.
Some progressive local governments have made efforts to construct public toilets. Soifer pointed to Portland’s “Portland Loo” initiative, where the city constructed free-standing restrooms around the city. Other cities have started to take on the concept, including San Diego and Sacramento.
But building more restrooms can be costly and politically difficult for local governments. The California governor, Gavin Newsom, criticized plans to build public restrooms in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood. The toilets would cost $1.7m and take up to three years to build. The ensuing anger over the plan was nicknamed “Toiletgate”.
Because businesses like Starbucks already have functioning facilities, the immediate solution is allowing access to the public with broader hopes that people can push governments to build clean and accessible municipally funded restrooms.
“This is such a widely felt issue,” Soifer said. “I mean, everyone I talk to has a public toilet horror story.”
That is so true. My most recent experience was during the pandemic when many fast-food places that I used to stop at on my long distance drives had closed their restaurants. I wrote about this last year.