Portable Restrooms

People have been putting portable restrooms to creative use long before Johnny Knoxville and his Jackass crew started using them for slingshotting and blowing them up to get a laugh. Dan Harris, owner of Five Peaks Technology in Muskegon, Michigan, has heard of people using their portable toilets as hunting blinds out in the middle of the woods, “People cut holes in the side, go on in and…” Well, you get the gist. The portable toilet becomes a one-stop shop, so to speak.

“Bizarre uses for a port-a-pot?” Graham Edwards of PolyPortables, said, “Well, we get some pretty odd requests.” He echoed Harris’ hearing about hunters looking to make elaborate hunting blinds and has also heard of people who want to use them for storage buildings. “We’ve had people make go-karts for parades out of our units. We have several wheel-chair accessible units that were turned into ice-fishing shacks in the northeast. And we had one customer tells us he rented our unit to a person solely for the use of blowing it up for a YouTube video. He was reimbursed, apparently,” he explained.

Harris also said he has seen portable toilets doubling as bus stop shelters in rural areas. People who have long driveways will place a portable restroom near the end of their driveways so their children have shelter while they wait for the bus to pick them up for school. “Nothing surprises me anymore,” he says.

Actor Jack Nicholson has one of Comforts of Homes’ drop boxes next to one of his pools at his home in California. The Montgomery, Illinois based company also has a few drop box units on an island used by NASA to track the space shuttle…among other things.

Mike Adams, of PolyJohn, said, “Too many to count!” as far as bizarre uses that he’s heard of, “The most innovative thing that I remember was an avant-garde artist who made one of our PJN3 units with one-way glass where the user could see out but nobody could see in, and he placed it on the street in New York City.”

Bizarre uses aside, these companies know when it’s time to get down to business and when it’s time to work toward going green. Not just a trendy topic for Five Peaks, 45 percent of their products are made with recycled materials, or “material destined for the landfill,” as Harris called it, and Comforts of Home has solar power options so units can be self contained in the middle of nowhere.

Comforts of Home is also working on a new bathroom trailer where the ramp folds up to the side. The side ramp is a new alternative to having to haul the ramp with the help of an extra guy. The side ramp makes for quick and easy set up with one person, and customers don’t need any extra space or a truck to haul the ramp. “The only other option out there now is to make the trailer lower to the ground, which adds a lot of cost and maintenance,” Comforts of Home owner, Brad Martin said.

In an effort to move into the realm of going green, PolyJohn has recently begun experimenting with a small ‘Pilot Program’ to see if recycling used restrooms is feasible. They’ve received some used units and are currently testing different processes with the old plastic to see if the material is viable.

PolyPortables has, perhaps, made the most effort in becoming an environmentally friendly company. “PolyPortables was actually green before it was cool,” Edwards said. Back in 2000, they introduced the first earth- and people-friendly products specifically for use in the portable sanitation industry. Edwards said, “We developed several of the deodorizer and cleaning products in conjunction with the U.S. EPA, and actually received their Design for the Environment designation for our Earth Works line of deodorizers.” They are still one of, if not the only company in the portable sanitation industry with that designation for a deodorizer product. Edwards said, “We were probably a little early actually.”

At PolyJohn, Adams is most excited about Coopers Best Deodorizing Packets—a natural enzyme tank deodorizer and waste digester. The highly effective enzymes in the single use packet control odor and liquefy waste. He said, “They are easy to use and do away with messy blue liquids.” The single use packets also help restroom operators manage service costs.

According to Edwards, the “green” movement didn’t take off in the portable sanitation industry for several years, and there is still a large segment of the industry who believes that a bacteria-based product won’t work as well as some of the harsher chemicals out there. “It’s not that they don’t work as well, but they do work differently, and you have to be aware of those differences if you want to go green. We’ve got our eye on a new product in this market segment, and look to have something by end of second quarter of this year, if everything falls right in our testing phase,” he said.

He went on to explain, “We also use a specific amount of recycled plastic in our units, and were actually the first to roll-out a recycling program where our customers could return parts of their old toilets for credit toward new units.” Unfortunately, the value of the recycled plastic is not worth the cost to the customer to transport it long distances. If asked, PolyPortables will still work with customers who’d like to recycle their old parts.

PolyPortables’ motto has been “Listening. Learning. Delivering. Since 1972.” It’s the crux of what they do every day. This year they’ve prepared a couple of high rise products for hand wash stations, and they’ve got some interesting alternatives to hand sanitizers. They’ve made a bevy of small changes to individual parts of their restroom units that they feel will increase the life-span of their units even further. “We feel a product should evolve. When a customer entrusts us with their business, we think they should be able to depend on the fact that the product they have chosen won’t be discontinued, or that they will be able to get parts to service it decades into the future.”

PolyPortables has a program of constant innovation and improvement. While they introduce new products on a regular time-table, they also take in a tremendous number of comments from their customers on a daily basis, evaluate those comments, and implement them if and when they’ve determined they are good suggestions toward improving their products.

Innovation is the theme of the year for Five Peaks. Harris announced, “2011 should be a record year for us.” After restructuring Five Peaks’ parent company, Ameriform, Inc. in 2008, the Muskegon, Michigan-based company has seen its two best years in 2009 and 2010.

Harris and his family have been in business together for the last 29 years as a manufacturer of large thermoformed plastic products. In 2004, the Harris family turned their attention to the portable restroom business and created Five Peaks Technology. Harris said, “We like having our own product lines versus custom manufacturing. We felt the sanitation industry needed an aesthetically pleasing portable toilet, as well as something very functional and strong. What we have designed fills that need.”

“There are a lot of taboos about portable toilets,” Harris said, and Five Peaks tried to debunk those taboos and stigmas by creating the Aspen with the company’s 2004 inception. The innovative egg shape design has a lighter weight than most portable toilets. It is a first choice for many concerts and music videos and is even the choice of the PGA—the Professional Golfers’ Association. “The Aspen is a great looking toilet,” Harris said, “It’s a very functional toilet and has a strong design.”

By the time this issue hits newsstands, Five Peaks will have introduced an even newer, more innovative, stronger design at the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo, held in Louisville, Kentucky in early March. The Glacier is a smooth wall, portable toilet in the same vein as the company’s K2 line. The K2 is a double wall unit, and the Glacier is a single wall unit. This allows the Glacier to be more in line with the Aspen when it comes to pricing.

Harris is happy to report that Five Peaks’ rough patch is a thing of the past, “We’ve invested in upgrading in several areas this year. We’re redesigning our ADA handicap unit and attending more shows.” In addition to the Pumper & Cleaner Expo, Five Peaks will have product displayed in two shows overseas this year—one in England and another in Germany, a first for the company. Five Peaks will also see an entirely new, completely revamped website in 2011. The address, however, remains the same—www.fivepeaks.net.

Harris is enthusiastic about the direction Five Peaks is headed in and said, “This is a great industry with great people. I can’t believe how fortunate we are.” 

Story by Megan McClure

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