When are people going to stop binning and start flushing their toilet paper?

By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times/ANN

Taiwan’s old habit of binning toilet paper instead of flushing it is still raising a stink, months after the government officially started telling everyone that down the drain is the way to go.

Tamkang University student Lin Meng-chang throws his soiled toilet paper into a bin next to the toilet bowl instead of flushing it away. Whether it be at home or in a public restroom, the 24-year-old said he has done so since he was young.

“My parents told me the toilet paper will clog the toilet pipes so it has become a habit … unless there are no bins in the cubicle,” Lin said.

The bigger problem is that he is not alone. In fact, 80 to 90 percent of Taiwanese throw their used toilet paper into waste bins, according to a recent survey by Taiwan’s Chinese language United Daily News.

That has government officials concerned. They say bins filled with used toilet paper tarnish Taiwan’s image as a clean city.

Besides being an eyesore or creating an unpleasant toilet experience, there are also concerns that smelly bins are a breeding ground for bacteria and bugs.

This comes at a time when Taiwan is welcoming more tourists and its capital Taipei is preparing to host more than 5,000 athletes during the World University Games in August.

So Taiwan’s government officials are embarking on a campaign to get people to kick the habit.

From next month, Taiwan’s environmental protection officials will be conducting spot checks nationwide to ensure that public-restroom operators put up posters and stickers to remind people to flush away their used toilet paper.

These publicity materials are also aimed at dispelling the perception that Taiwan’s drainage pipes cannot take the strain of flushing down toilet paper.

Errant operators who fail to comply will be put on notice and may even be fined between NT$1,200 and NT$6,000 (S$55 and S$275) for not keeping their restrooms hygienic, said the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA).

Besides rolling out public education campaigns, the authorities are also looking to remove all bins from public-restroom cubicles to make it difficult for people to revert to their unhygienic habit.

But it may take some time to allay people’s fears. In 2011, the EPA released a report that found the top five brands of toilet paper on the market in Taiwan did not dissolve easily and could cause problems for homes that are not connected to the main sewerage system.

Recent statistics from the Ministry of Interior also found that slightly more than half of Taiwanese households are not linked to the main sewerage network. In bigger cities like Taipei and Taoyuan, about eight in 10 households are linked.

But Chiu Kuo-su, who is a senior technical specialist in the EPA’s Environmental Sanitation and Toxic Substance Management department, said the biggest culprits of clogged pipes are actually hair, condoms and sanitary pads.

“We have ensured that most of the toilet paper sold today dissolves a lot easier,” he said. “Our assurance is that if you can flush down human waste, (the sewerage system) can definitely handle toilet paper.

“We have to drill it into people’s minds so that flushing your toilet paper becomes second nature,” Chiu added.

Over the next six months, the EPA is also providing subsidies to smaller cities to improve their plumbing.