PolyJohn Remembers Its Rich Past, Looks Toward a Future of Change

The coronavirus pandemic reinforced the importance of the portable sanitation industry and will encourage the public to demand heightened service.

PolyJohn Remembers Its Rich Past, Looks Toward a Future of Change

Above The extrusion line is where plastic pellets are made into sheeting.

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PolyJohn has manufactured equipment for the portable restroom industry for nearly 40 years, producing several restroom unit models, sinks and sanitizer stands, holding tanks, trailers and accessories. The products are placed for workers on construction sites, both on the ground and in high-rise applications. They also serve the public in various locations, such as parks, special events, large festivals, sports venues and roadside rest stops. As the needs of our workforce and the public have changed over the years, PolyJohn has evolved its offerings.

Portable Restroom Operator (PRO) talked to PolyJohn’s managing director, Mike Adams, to learn more about the company and the future its leaders see for the portable sanitation industry.

PRO: Can you share the story of how PolyJohn began and what the company profile looks like today?

Adams: PolyJohn was formed by George Harding, Ed Cooper and George Hiskes in the mid-1980s. Harding was the ultimate entrepreneur and had been involved in other industries including boat building and motion pictures and worked with the Defense Department prior to partnering with Cooper and Hiskes. Harding held the original patent on a plastic portable restroom. In the early 1990s, company ownership evolved, and PolyJohn is now owned and managed solely by the Cooper family. PolyJohn manufactures its own products in Whiting, Indiana, and Orillia, Ontario, with strategically located distribution facilities around the globe.

PRO: What’s the biggest trend you have seen in the portable restroom industry during the past 10 years?

Adams: The public is demanding nicer facilities. Restroom trailer units, flushable portable restrooms and hand-washing equipment have gained popularity and will continue to grow and evolve to meet the public’s wants and needs.

PRO: What is the next innovation you expect in portable restrooms and why?

Adams: Like any industry, technology will be a driver for innovation. What that will look like is yet to be determined, but we can envision many possibilities. Regulation will also be a driver. We can see a time in the not-to-distant future where flushing restrooms are required across the board in the U.S. to match other countries’ current and more stringent requirements.

PRO: Do you see hand-wash sinks becoming a standard feature in all portable restrooms after the coronavirus?

Adams: The COVID-19 situation has certainly shined a light on hand-washing and how woefully behind the curve the U.S. was in that department. Many countries currently require hand-washing in portable restrooms. The U.S. will at least have many states upping requirements on job sites and elsewhere, post-coronavirus.

PRO: How has the durability of polyethylene restrooms improved over the years, and what is the current expected life span of your units?

Adams: The material itself has improved over time including UV protections, etc. PolyJohn has a proprietary UV package designed to maximize the life cycle of the product. It is not unusual to spot a PolyJohn unit that is more than 30 years old on a job site making money for one of our customers.

PRO: What are the most popular features based on customer feedback, and what are the most common restroom color combinations?

Adams: Every customer has a different reason they buy a particular product. From surveys we have conducted over the years, the most common characteristics PROs seem to mention when asked about restrooms are interior space, durability, ease of loading and unloading, and ease of repair. Restroom colors have shown some short-term trends over the years, but basic blue and gray are normally our biggest sellers. Features such as solar lights — and of course hand sanitizing and hand-washing options added to the standard restrooms — are also growing.

PRO: Can you explain your sustainability and environmental initiatives?

Adams: We recycle 100% of our scraps and trimmings. As any business does, we also look for every opportunity to reduce our energy costs and are always on the lookout for cleaner and more efficient ways to operate the machinery required to produce our products. One challenge we have not conquered as an industry is a way to recycle retired restrooms. We have made several unsuccessful attempts to offer that service to our customers over the years, however the logistics of shipping old restrooms to central locations to be recycled proved daunting and the constant fluctuation in the price of recycled materials made it very difficult for our customers to see a return on investment for going to the trouble. Hopefully someday we will be able to solve this problem. If anyone has any ideas, please reach out to us.

PRO: What other topics impact the portable sanitation industry at this time?

Adams: If there is a positive in the COVID-19 era, it has been the recognition of how important our industry is to the health and well-being of the general public. My hope is that PROs seize this opportunity to evaluate what they charge for the valuable services they provide and are recognized as a critical part of the overall environmental infrastructure. I also believe that more PROs need to explore and embrace the technology that is out there regarding routing, asset tracking and the like. There are significant savings in operational costs and improved customer service opportunities available when using some of the tools that are now available. 


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