Making Public Urination Responsible

Restrooms signs like these in Paris are pointing to a new kind of toilet to fight public urination.
Image: Pixabay

Paris is addressing its public urination epidemic by turning human waste into garden compost. Some U.S. cities are also making changes.

Don’t stop and smell the flowers in the streets of Paris, as you may be sniffing around their latest portable toilet.

After years fighting a growing epidemic of public urination, the Parisians came up with a solution to combat against “les pipis sauvages,” or “wild peeing,” while beautifying their city at the same time.

Despite a 2,000-strong “incivility brigade” of police officers dedicated to stopping offenders, 1,800 miles of sidewalk had to be cleaned each day by sanitation workers due to the high number of public urination offenders. With the epidemic damaging not only streets and walkways, but lampposts, telephone poles, cars, as well as the harm the chemicals used in cleanups wreak on the environment, city officials searched for a solution that encouraged would-be offenders to keep their waste off the street.

Public Urination Is Now a Public Resource

The ultra-modern, sleek and stylish Uritrottoir looks nothing like an American Porta-A-Potty, but is used for the same purpose, and in an eco-friendly way. The closed bin contains a bed of straw and wood chips and will later be used as compost in city parks and gardens.

The high carbon content of the straw bedding also reduces the smell normally associated with public restrooms.

We’re making compost, a fertilizer, so it’s a circular economy. We’re reusing two waste products, straw and urine, to make something that makes plants grow,” said Laurent Lebot, co-deisgner of the Uritrottoir.

The outdoor toilet is monitored by an attendant via a computer, which can detect when it needs to be emptied. The contents are taken to the outskirts of the city, and turned into compost.

A pair of Uritrottoirs cost Paris approximately $9,730, and the city pays a sanitation worker $860 a month to monitor and empty the waste.

Lebot’s hometown of Nantes, France, ordered three Uritrottoirs for placement in the city, and Lebot told The New York Times he has received inquiries from other cities in France, Switzerland, England and Germany.

American Cities Addressing Public Urination 

Paris is not the only city working to combat the stench and destruction of their streets from human waste. In San Francisco, open-air urinals were installed at city parks last year to encourage responsible public urination, after a street lamp collapsed when its base deteriorated due to urine, nearly hitting a driver as it went down.

Earlier this summer in New York City, city council members voted to downgrade the severity of public urination to a civil ticket, similar to breaking the speed limit, according to Fox News. Police officers are worried this will cause a spike in public urination in a city without options like Paris or San Francisco.

“Grandmothers and children have to get in the elevator every day and every day it smells like [urine] and it’s going to keep happening,” an anonymous police source told Fox News. “Before, the guy might have thought, ‘I better not [pee] in the elevator because I might get caught up in the system.’ Now, there’s no fear of embarrassment or recrimination.”

As other cities around the world find solutions in unique open-air urinals that encourage responsible public urination, New York City officials may have more examples to follow in the future.

About the author

Rachel Engel

Rachel Engel

Author Rachel Engel is also Associate Editor of She is based in Kansas.