Design Middle East hosted an E-Live session and invited Frederick Trzcinski, marketing & innovation director, Ideal Standard MENA; Sharib Rao, specification sales manager at Geberit Gulf; and Victor Schoone, country manager Middle East—Roca, to discuss how public restrooms could evolve post coronavirus pandemic
COVID-19 has turned our world upside down, so much that we are scared of doing the things which were normal earlier. Like going to a park, beach, restaurant, or even going to a mall. The idea of a return to life in public is difficult for many people. But it turns out that one of the biggest obstacles is the prospect of having to use a public restroom — a small, tight space. A lot of reports suggest that how these washrooms are an ideal place for COVID-19 transmission. What is the optimum solution that we have? Here are the highlights of the exciting discussion that will answer your queries.
THE UNPRECEDENTED SET OF CHALLENGES
FREDERICK: Shared public spaces especially shared bathrooms have always been potential danger zones for health. With the coronavirus pandemic situation, the risk of germ spread has further increased. The major challenge for setting up a public bathroom is to find innovative ways through modern technology to reduce splashing, reduce touching of bathroom surfaces, and avoid residual stagnant water. For problem-related to splashing, we have Aquablade, it is the greatest invention after the flush itself. This flushing technology is cleaner, quieter and smarter. Aquablade uses discrete slots to channel a sharp flow of water across the bowl to give splash-free flushing, even at low water volumes. There are some great solutions to reduce make a touch-free bathroom like sensor mixers: infrared and capacitive flush actuation for a touch-free flushing experience or the use of elbow handles is very effective in preventing infections. Lastly, when it comes to stagnant water, products like gravity drain, back outlet, and Bioguard which is a patent pending technology having an anti-microbial copper outlet to prevent biofilm attachment and reduce the risk of Pseudomonas infection, if of great use.
VICTOR: The biggest problem for users is not to touch anything in the bathroom that you can achieve by having technologically-operated products. But one has to still open the doors of the restroom area and then you have to open the door of the bathroom inside the public toilet. There are still many manually operated faucets and soap dispensers. The technology in the bathroom segment has been there, what I feel is that COVID-19 accelerates the introduction of more technology into the bathroom. Another major problem for the designers, developers, and contractors is that the cost must be under control. The electronically-advanced solutions are more expensive as compared to the manually-operated systems. What we have to achieve is that make sure that all the products are available at affordable prices otherwise it would only be for the niche segment.
SHARIB: There would be a lot of changes in the world because of COVID-19 including the public conveniences. It is our responsibility of the manufacturer of sanitary ware products to come forward with innovative products. Social distancing is very difficult to practice and impose in public bathrooms, the same is a reason here. Touchless technology will play a major role here and it’s also important to understand that these products should be user-friendly and easy to maintain. We have further tale into considerations factors like pricing, durability, and affordability of products to make sure that most of the operators are using these.
CAN FLUSHING LEAD TO COVID-19 TRANSMISSION?
FREDERICK: We have all read this report that flushing might lead to the spread of germs but still it’s not confirmed yet. But splashing of aerosols could be a major cause of bacteria to spread. So, we have to focus on technology that limits the flushing like Aquablade, disrupting innovation for flushing the toilets In 2015, Ideal Standard invented Aquablade technology which is a quantum leap in bathroom Hygiene. It uses discrete slots to channel a sharp flow of water across the bowl. This results in the cleaning of up to 96% of the bowl area and reduces 75% splashing vs traditional rimless toilets. Even with hard water, Aquablade resists lime build-up and clogging. So, we have to invest in products that are technologically-advanced and touchless as much as possible. Again, we are tackling the problem of water-saving but still, we need to do more in this segment using technology and innovation. This is our responsibility as a brand.
VICTOR: What is vital here is that WCs should be splashing waster as little as possible. The European standards are highest in this regard. Then there are technologies that allow for more hygienic WCs like rimless WCs. What I would like to see is a technology where I don’t have to touch anything, like if you do not have the electronic flushing system, one has to flush the WC and could be a major area of contamination.
SHARIB: There are a lot of reports that are doing the rounds that flushing might lead to the spread of the virus. But still, nothing proved till yet. But it’s important to understand that being responsible manufactures, we bring innovations in this segment. The geometry of the bowls and designs of the seats plays a huge role here.
TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION
FREDERICK: In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the whole industry is answering with new products and technologies that reduces the touching of surfaces and limiting contact with other people. You can see the introduction of technologies like touchless faucets, sensor flushes, wall mounted ceramic products, automatic soap dispensers and many more to improve cleanliness by reducing touch-points on highly trafficked places. In addition to that, we have introduced some path-breaking technologies to achieve the highest level of Hygiene in public bathrooms.
Like our Sphero Urinal system is equipped with BMS (Bathroom Management Systems) to help facility or cleaning staff to better take care of bathrooms. For example, the staff may get a notification on his mobile of a possible clogging in a particular urinal, even before the clogging appears. Then, there are advanced self-flushing technologies from Ideal Standard, which can flush the urinal or toilet automatically in case it is ideal for a long time. Our Markwik 21 faucets are designed in a way that they can be disinfected manually by redirecting hot water from the cold side of the tap. The bodies and spout of Markwik 21 faucets are easily demountable so they can be submersed in disinfectant or washed in machines for sterilisation. Ideal Standard and Armitage Shanks brand are leaps and bound ahead in terms of technologies to prevent infections. We also, very carefully integrate design in our products and it’s at the centre of our planning. We have partnered with designer Roberto Palomba and yes we can have different designs and finishes depending on where we are using the product. We have to take into account various parameters especially where the product will be used like residences, malls, hotels, and then we can advise accordingly.
VICTOR: Touchless technology will take the centerstage, the challenge is whether it can be used in the already-established set-ups? We are also launching anti-Covid protections screens in glass which are the urinal dividers, this will be a great solution for the compact bathroom.
SHARIB: Whether the bathrooms are small or big, there are some products which are very essential especially at the time of this kind of pandemic. The focus should be on touch-free or handsfree products whether the washroom is small or big, whether you go to a mall or a restaurant. Sensor faucets are a must-have, rim-free toilet are in demand, urinals with integrated sensors will also be big in the coming days. VICTOR: Touchless technology will take the centerstage, the challenge is whether it can be used in the already-established set-ups? We are also launching anti-Covid protections screens in glass which are the urinal dividers, this will be a great solution for the compact bathroom.
DO WE NEED A HYGIENE CODE FOR BATHROOMS?
FREDERICK: There are already some certifications here such as ESMA but we could benefit of a hygiene code such as Hospital Building Memorandum (HBM) done in the UK but there are others for residential and hospitality used across Europe and we adhere to all these European norms. I think we need a hygiene code not only for building but also for maintaining the bathroom. Many EU countries are already using such codes and our products follow all those standards.
VICTOR: I think we will globally see some guidelines and standards to come up with regard to the hygiene codes that guarantee that the bathroom spaces are more hygienic and safer. New constructions will require minimum standards for the public bathrooms which will include touchless solutions.
SHARIB: There are so many standards from every country for the bathrooms and public spaces are on top on the priority list. Post COVID-19, I believe the governments will work in this direction and must issue some guidelines for new constructions and old establishments. To work on the existing bathrooms, it’s a bit challenging but touchless technology is a great solution here like touchless flush plates.
LEARNINGS FROM THE PANDEMIC
FREDERICK: The crisis is big. The solutions are available. But as our authorities say “We are all responsible”. Technology is useful only when it is wisely used. While technology will do its best to tackle this pandemic situation, there is a need for users to learn ways of hygienic living in this New Normal. Not only bathrooms, but hygiene innovations should be introduced in all the areas where public contact is risky. The team has proven to show resilience in these difficult circumstances. We need to be ready for the “New Normal” being flexible and ready to adapt, we’ll need to have courage, be agile, ready to change, and be dynamic.
VICTOR: We have been woken up this pandemic and is hygiene must be our top priority. Innovations are there and new innovations are around the corner. The industry is working and pushing each other for more.
SHARIB: The most important thing is hygiene, most of the products are already in the market like touchless toilet, urinals, and faucets. FM companies will play a major role to ensure proper cleanliness. For manufacturers, I would say that it’s time to innovate more than ever.