Why men need bins in bathrooms too

Image: Syed Umer

A UK campaign calling for the installation of incontinence bins in all men's public toilets highlights the hidden issue of male incontinence and the lack of support available for those who suffer from it.

In the UK, there is a statutory provision in law for sanitary disposal bins in women’s toilet cubicles, but there is currently no such provision for bins in men’s cubicles - resulting in anxiety over disposing of used pads in public toilets. This lack of provision impacts men, trans men and trans women, say campaigners.

According to charities Tackle Prostate Cancer and Prostate Cancer UK, this lack of sanitary bins to dispose of incontinence pads is causing difficulties for men with urinary incontinence due to illness, age or injury - and that the issue affects more people than previously thought.

For example, Prostate Cancer UK estimates one in eight men will get prostate cancer, rising to one in four for Black men. This means for the over 475,000 men living with or after prostate cancer in the UK, many will experience urinary incontinence as a side effect of treatment for the disease.

"As a woman who takes it for granted that there will always be a bin in any public toilet cubicle for me to dispose of my sanitary pads, this was something that I am not ashamed to admit I hadn’t thought of before."

Sarah Gray, Tackle Prostate Cancer

Prostate Cancer UK have launched the Dispose with Dignity campaign, urging the government to make legislative changes and ensure that male toilets provide male incontinence bins.

Lewis Moody, a World Cup winning England rugby player, aims to tackle the taboo surrounding male incontinence and improve the quality of life for those affected. Moody has backed calls for a law change to ensure every public toilet across the UK is fit for men’s needs.

As a result of ulcerative colitis, Moody is one of the 10% of men who regularly use absorbent pads because they have trouble controlling their bladder or bowel, he told the Guardian in an interview about the campaign.

Flushed incontinence pads can contribute to fatbergs, like this mammoth one found in a London sewer and removed by Thames Water technicians.

While the emotional impact of incontinence is the primary driver behind this campaign, it is also worth noting there is an environmental cost to incorrectly disposing of pads, wet wipes and nappies. If bins are not provided for the safe and discrete disposal of pads, wipes and nappies, they are often flushed down the toilet instead - with disastrous results for the sewer system.

Over 1 billion incontinence products are bought annually in the UK, and one incontinence pad or nappy can take up to 400 years to decompose. Products for dealing with incontinence frequently have high levels of plastics because of how absorbent they are, and when flushed down the toilet they can combine with fats and oils to form fatbergs and sewer blockages.