Smart Meter, Smart Grid … Smart Toilet?

It’s rare that intelligence and toilets are mentioned in the same sentence, unless it’s a joke about the quality of ideas one has while spending time there. But a recent competition for innovative municipal programs recently provided the perfect opportunity to do just that.

EfficientGov, a newsletter focused solely on municipal government, bestowed its 2012 “Intelligence” Award on a public bathroom located in the city of Portland, Ore. Patented by the city, the “Portland Loo” is billed as a cost-effective public restroom that provides maximum function in minimal space, and is being marketed to other cities with public bathrooms that are, well, in the crapper.

Portland Loo Design

image via city of Portland

Let’s face it, public restrooms don’t have the best reputation. Most are austere, poorly lit, and contain an odor that leaves something to be desired. On the flip side, everyone has to go, and it’s only fair that everyone should have access to a restroom that’s private and safe.

portland loo, award winner

image via city of Portland

Portland city leaders and now EfficientGov, too, believe the Loo offers the optimal balance of personal privacy and public access. With its stainless steel wall panels mounted on a slim-profile steel structure, it’s said to weigh a fraction of a typical restroom, making it easier to install in high traffic locations.

The Loo’s stainless steel walls are covered with anti-graffiti coating, and it is lit by 100 percent solar-powered LED lights equipped with motion sensors for energy conservation. The Loo also features louvered panels that allow for surveillance by the community (without sacrificing privacy) and an exterior handwashing station that helps to deter illicit activity.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog

    • How did the City of Portland “reportedly net $40,000” on their very first sale of a Loo?  A business needs to recover their start-up costs and overhead before they can break even, never mind “net” a profit.  The Patent wasn’t free, nor were the hundreds of hours of design work spent on the concept.  If the “reportedly” part of the story was somebody from the Portland Water Bureau, they’re lying.

      • Pete Danko

        Bruce: The city didn’t design and build the Portland Loo with the intention of starting a business; it do so to provide public restrooms for its citizens and visitors. So the appropriate question, I would think, would be: What costs have been incurred in order to convert this public benefit into a revenue-generating business? The patent would be one cost and I’d imagine there are other administrative costs as well. Whether those were folded into the margin cited (info came from the city, as reported in the Oregonian), I don’t know, but I think you’re right that they should be.

        • They haven’t made a profit:  we both know that.  Nor was it paid for with “general fund” dollars, as the Commissioner suggests. It was the brainchild and budget liability of the PWB, and the ratepayers have borne the developmental and marketing costs…If the goal was to provide public restrooms for Portland’s citizens and visitors, it would be useful to know how many of these Loos have been installed in the City of Portland.  Additionally, how many more have been budgeted for installation?  If the answer is less than 10, then statistical analysis would suggest the Loos have done precious little to advance the cause of public access to restrooms in a city of nearly 600,000 residents and transients.

          • Pete Danko

            Five loos have been installed. Try one next time you’re in town!

    • Anna

      Bruce, you are simply incorrect about the Portland Loo being the “brainchild” of the Portland Water Bureau and your assertion that the costs have not come from General Fund dollars. 

      • Jonny

        I believe a Judge will determine whether or not that’s true.  There are certainly PWB staff who have been “loaned” to the project.