China Is Using Technology to Thwart Toilet Paper Thieves

AFP//Getty Images
AFP//Getty Images / AFP//Getty Images

Tourism officials in Beijing face an unusual privy predicament: As The New York Times reports, thieves are swiping sheets of toilet paper from tourist site bathrooms, forcing administrators to install toilet paper dispensers with facial recognition software.

Due to a boom in domestic travel, the AP reports that tourism authorities have launched a $3.6 billion campaign to overhaul the capital city’s public toilets—particularly the infamously crude tourist bathrooms at popular attractions. Around 34,000 new public bathrooms are slated for construction; many of them will be built in the Western-style sit-down design, instead of the ubiquitous squat design. In addition, around 23,000 bathrooms will undergo renovations.

Some facilities are also equipped with the technologically advanced toilet paper dispensers, which cost around $720 each. When visitors enter these bathrooms, they are required to stare at a wall-mounted computer for three seconds. A machine provides them with a single, two-foot sheet of paper; after that, the visitor must wait nearly 10 minutes for a second one.

Toilet paper is a rarity in China, where most public restrooms either don’t have paper, or provide visitors with a single roll to share among themselves. However, it’s a required amenity for tourist sites if they are to receive top ratings from the country’s National Tourism Authority. Unfortunately, it can also make them a magnet for thieves.

For the past decade, Beijing’s popular Temple of Heaven Park has stocked its bathrooms with toilet paper, and locals wanting to replenish their own personal supply often stole it. Now, the park is testing out the face-recognizing toilet paper dispensers. Administrators say they will install the special dispensers in all of the park’s public bathrooms if the machines do, indeed, put an end to their toilet troubles.

[h/t The New York Times]