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Lifting the lid on terrible toilets  

14 September 2016

For those who have only been able to enjoy the Olympics and Glastonbury Festival from the comfort of their living rooms this summer, they can at least take comfort in the fact they’ve managed to avoid the toilet horror stories that plague such events.

Let’s start with the Olympics. Only days before the Games were due to open, it was reported that extra maintenance staff and more than 1,000 cleaners had been brought in to help fix problems and clean the Olympic Village in Rio. The Australian team of athletes had raised concerns over blocked toilets, leaking pipes and exposed wiring, and refused to move into the complex of 31 buildings until the problems had been resolved. 

Mike Tancred, the spokesman for the Australia team, said: “We’re having plumbing problems, we’ve got leaking pipes. We’ve got electrical problems. We’ve got cleaning problems. We’ve got lighting problems in some of the stairwells. We did a stress test on Saturday, turned on the taps and flushed the toilets, and water came flooding down the walls.”

Thankfully all was resolved for the start of the Games but that hasn't stopped toilets hitting the headlines since for more bizarre reasons, after an athlete used her Instagram account to post a photo of a sign depicting various banned practices while using the toilets at the Olympic Village. Apart from the usual requests for users not to throw paper down the bowl, there is also a complete ban on fishing in the toilet!

Outdoor music festival Glastonbury is almost as famous for its nightmarish toilets as its live music acts. The majority of the loos are metallic green boxes, known as "long-drops" because you excrete into a large underground opening, often already filled to the brim with human waste.

But festival goers had a better deal this summer as the plastic portable toilets were replaced by 1,300 organic composting toilets. According to organisers, the smell is reduced as each user covers their waste in sawdust, which they take into the loo with them. The loos are also said to last longer — as they don't fill up so quickly — and are better for the environment as the waste is used to fertilise nearby fields.

Some toilet anecdotes should rightly be sniffed at, but others remind us that cleaning is only noticed when it isn't done properly and hygiene when it isn't up to scratch.

Jane Healy, Glastonbury’s sanitation manager, enlightens us: "No one ever talks about toilets in everyone’s day-to-day life, but as soon as they get to a festival that’s all they want to talk about."

For the cleaning industry, though, it's just business as usual.