Flushed with success
Business opportunities booming as poor facilities meet their Waterloo
If you live in a sub-tropical climate, you need to ensure that the toilet facilities you use are hygienic and reliable, and mobile lavatories are no exception. Players in this industry are constantly pushing the boundaries to keep their clients happy - and to make sure their facilities look good and smell clean.
Tony Chan, director of Proenvironmental Services, which has been in the industry for more than 15 years, said the business was growing thanks to people's increasing awareness of cleanliness issues. He said the government was also promoting the mobile lavatory industry for concessions and events.
Michael Ranck, managing director of Toi Toi Hong Kong, a division of Adco Asia Holdings, a world leader in portable sanitation with offices throughout North America, Europe and Asia, said: 'There are also more amenities. Previously, there were just chemical toilets, but now there are fresh-water flushing toilets, in either squatting or sitting style. This has improved customer perception and made toilets acceptable - people like them.'
Overall improvements also mean that where, historically, mobile toilets did not come with a washbasin, today's models offer tissue paper and soap.
Likewise, Mr Chan said, higher standards and better looking polyvinyl chloride toilets were being sourced from Germany or the United States in place of cheaper plastic ones from the mainland.
Hong Kong's portable toilets must also be user-friendly, with fresh-water flushing, waste-hiding and hand-washing facilities. And, according to Mr Ranck, they should be attractive from the outside, so that people are not afraid to go in. Another recent plus is that everything can be operated by foot, so people don't have to touch anything.
Finally, when a mobile lavatory company wishes to satisfy client requirements, it needs to ensure that the toilets are clean, dry and odourless.
Regardless of individual customer requirements, it is essential to provide enough toilets at an outside event or worksite. 'The challenge is to let clients know up front how many they need and for what duration,' Mr Ranck explained.
Rather than asking clients how many toilets they need, industry professionals need to ascertain key elements, such as whether food or drink is being sold, the duration of the event and how long they expect people to queue.
As a rule of thumb, the toilet industry provides one toilet per 300 people. If queues are a no-no, clients can have one toilet per 100 people, or even one per 50.
In Hong Kong, mobile toilets are generally provided for construction sites, as well as government departments and one-off events.
For the Equestrian events to be held in Hong Kong for the upcoming Beijing Olympics, for example, Toi Toi will provide VIP portable toilets complete with sinks, hand soap and hand towels.
There are about 13 mobile toilet companies in Hong Kong, seven of which provide professional services that include dedicated trucks and pumping and maintenance support.
'Operators in Hong Kong are very good at safely removing human waste and transporting it to the government's treatment facilities,' Mr Ranck said.
Mr Chan said specific regulations applied to the treatment of sanitary waste. There was treatment within the toilet itself to deodorise, control bacterial growth and break down solids to some extent.
Next, waste has to be removed by truck and transported to government waste treatment facilities in Tuen Mun, Sai Kung and Ap Lei Chau. Other official paperwork includes dumping permits, operating licences, government and construction contracts.
In addition, 'All of our people have working green or silver cards, which allow them to work safely on site,' Mr Ranck said.
Finally, mobile lavatory companies are governed by the Portable Sanitation Association International (PSAI), whose guidelines for handling human waste and providing training have been adopted worldwide.
Challenges include cost increases and growing local competition, according to Mr Chan. This has made it an imperative to keep prices the same for the past few years, despite inflation in the price of materials. However, business is moving forward thanks to rising mobile toilet requests on the market.
The greatest business opportunity lies in the development of this industry throughout Guangdong province. This is thanks to the shortage of toilets in the region and the dubious standard of the public toilets that do exist.
'Our toilets are normally dry and government toilets are normally wet - and the assumption is that wet is not clean,' Mr Ranck said. 'This is the biggest area for development not only in Asia, but also the world, right now.'
As far as employment opportunities were concerned, Mr Ranck noted that positions were in three major areas. Outside of opportunities for blue-collar workers, such as cleaning and staff professionals, there are outstanding opportunities for budding marketing professionals. The industry provides excellent opportunities for marketing people who want to learn the ropes, from creating sources of customers to bringing them in as clients. Systems work is another option, where order processing professionals are trained to operate several computer software applications for customer service and invoicing.
Customer development executive
The gun a device which includes a 2-inch-long plastic ball valve and a stainless steel wand which is put into the toilet waste tank to vacuum out the waste
Bowl and flapper this squatting style bowl has a spring-loaded valve which releases waste into the waste tank during flushing and returns to its closed position so that users cannot see toilet waste
Super scrubber is a waste-catching tank holding about 16 litres with a floating ball valve, which will stop airflow in the event that waste water is sucked into the vacuum line before it gets into the pump
Deodoriser is a dark blue biodegradable chemical used as a biocide for killing bacteria which create odours. It also contains surfactant, a kind of soap, for keeping interior surfaces clean and giving a fresh fragrance