While many grey nomads poo poo the notion that their fellow travellers are actually guilty of that most heinous of on-the-road crimes – toilet paper theft – there is a mountain of anecdotal evidence that leaves little room for doubt.
From the exasperated caravan park owner to the astounded eye-witness, the case for the prosecution is overwhelming. It seems the urban myths are not myths at all. Penny-pinching nomads really do pocket reams of two-ply, three-ply … whatever they can get their recently-washed hands on.
For decades, these thefts from public facilities were written off as a minor irritant and dismissed with an eye-roll and defeated mutterings of ‘there’s not much we can do about it, is there?’
But things are different now.
The pandemic has changed the game. While it was once a fringe crime pursued by a small minority of errant long-term travellers, toilet paper theft has now gone mainstream.
Supply chain issues, panic buying, empty loo roll shelves … it has all led to a renewed focus on the security of supplies at the amenities block. And it seems that rather than there ‘not being much that can be done about it’, the public loo gatekeepers do actually have some serious anti-theft tools at their disposal.
Already, there are some looking northwards, and perhaps contemplating mimicking the Chinese approach.
While there are some who have questioned whether it might be too much of an invasion of privacy, a growing number of restrooms in the Beijing area have installed facial recognition toilet paper dispensers.
Toilet users have to scan their faces and they are then dispensed 70 centimetres of toilet paper. If that’s not enough to do the job, the poor user has to wait nine minutes before he or she can scan their face again and get another 70 centimetres.
It’s all designed to combat the so-called ‘loo roll bandits’, who would apparently hide several metres of communal toilet paper in their bags and sneak it home.
While it may seem a pretty brutal approach, the Chinese can point to the effectiveness of the technology. Various studies have shown that toilet paper usage has plummeted by as much as 75% at some facilities.
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