AMS Spring 2023

Making a 3D Printed Advancement in China’s Toilet Revolution

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Using the toilet, or whatever euphemism you prefer, is an essential component of life, but humans make an absolute ritual of it like no other species. There’s a long, and highly entertaining, history of our efforts to deal with bodily waste and yet it is a topic that is rarely considered appropriate for conversation. As a result of the taboos associated with the elimination of bodily wastes, most toilets are poorly designed and yet remain unchanged and unexamined.

Japanese toilet controls

The Western style toilet is, essentially, a chair with a hole in it, much as it has been since Roman times. Kings and Popes may have had fancier chairs for their privy (derived from private) business, but the idea that sitting up while doing one’s business is the best way to go about things is one that the West has rarely seen as a topic for re-examination. Honestly, it isn’t until traveling well outside your comfort zone that you even realize that alternatives are possible. This all became abundantly clear to me when I was traveling in Japan this summer where, while the principle is largely the same, the toilets are equipped with all manner of options, none of which translate to anything remotely bathroom related when using Google Translate.

Japan has some of the world’s most advanced toilets; they play music, warm themselves up, and disperse a variety of cleansing treatments. Japan’s public bathrooms are clean enough to use as a theater for surgery and evenly spaced approximately the distance one could go between usages if one had a bladder infection. It was eye-opening and magical in a way that I would have never thought about. Mexico, where I live, has a much less developed public toilet culture, although I have also noticed that if you have a child in a state of emergency, you can simply knock on the nearest door and somebody will most likely lend you their bathroom.

[Photo: Dan Chung for the Guardian]

In China, a country with an enormous number of residents and a mind boggling number of tourists, public restrooms are beginning to get the attention they deserve. China was once known for having some tourist spots with horrifying, shall we say, bathroom opportunities. The condition and quality of public restrooms at tourist spots got so bad that it came to the attention of the Chinese government, which has since launched a toilet revolution that has let to the opening of nearly 70,000 improved toilet facilities. This is no frivolous activity, states Jack Sim, the founder of global sanitation entity World Toilet Organization:

“Toilet issues are not petty matters but an important aspect of satisfying the public’s desire for a decent and healthy life. China is a beautiful country with rich natural landscapes and culture and a long history, but the lack of clean toilets made tourist impossible to be promoted as the tour agencies always get bad reports and complaints after the tour – as the stench, filth and terrible condition of many Chinese toilets horrified foreign visitors.”

One area that has been the beneficiary of the toilet revolution is the Sun Mountain National Forest Park in Suzhou, located in east China’s Jiangsu Province. This popular tourist destination has received an upgrade on its facilities in the form of a 200 square meter (just over 650 square feet) building made entirely out of construction garbage. That refuse was recycled into the filament necessary to 3D print the structure, which was constructed without any additional steel support.

[STR/AFP/AFP/Getty Images]

In addition to the advanced technology used to create the building, toilet paper dispensers that read QR codes have been installed to help cut down on waste from unnecessary toilet paper usage. Each time the code is scanned, the mechanized dispensers provide 80 cm of toilet tissue (31 inches), a generous amount, and can be repeatedly scanned to provide more paper as necessary, although there is a charge after a certain number of scans. There are plans in place to put these QR code dispensers in place at more public restrooms as it is estimated that they help to reduce the amount of paper used by an average of 80%. This is no small quantity when thinking about the sheer number of people in China who use public restroom facilities on an average day.

In addition, technology is being embraced in the form of an online service platform that lets users find the nearest restroom facilities and also reports estimated wait time for usage. Currently, data is being collected from the Sun Mountain facility in order to provide feedback on usage. Some of the public restrooms that have been introduced are a bit alarming in their rethinking of the bathroom experience, such as the glass walled variety installed in the Shiyan Lake scenic area in Changsha. The hope is to find the right marriage between technology and ease of use, because the best state any individual toilet facility can achieve may just be to not be memorable.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at or share your comments below.

[Sources: The GuardianBorneo Bulletin]


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