Lonely Planet Writer

Beijing restrooms use facial recognition technology to catch excessive wipers

China has never been famous for protecting citizens’ privacy, but spying public toilets may be a step too far. Public conveniences in the park surrounding the Temple of Heaven in Beijing have been fitted with high-tech toilet roll dispensers that use facial recognition software to ration paper and catch out wasteful wipers.

Temple of Heaven, Beijing.
Temple of Heaven, Beijing. Image by Shutterstock

According to official sources, the dispensers issue a fixed ration of 60-70cm of toilet paper per user, and will refuse to dispense more for a nine minute interval. However, the park authorities have softened the blow by upgrading from one-ply to cushioned two-ply tissue. Early reports suggest that the policy is changing behaviour amongst profligate toilet paper users; paper usage in the high-tech toilets has fallen by nearly 20%.

Park officials have stressed that the scheme is not intended to be punitive for people with health problems. Park attendants are on hand to issue extra rations of paper to users suffering from stomach complaints and parents with young children. However, greedy users, such as the patrons reputedly seen stuffing their bags with paper before the machines were installed, will not be tolerated.

Asia has a long history of cutting edge toilet technology, with toilets in neighbouring Japan being particularly famous for high-tech user features such as bidet sprays, vibrating seats and warm-air driers. In January 2017, the government of Japan introduced a standard set of toilet control pad icons for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, to help tourists confused by the bewildering array of options.