The Portable Sanitation Industry Continues a Rich History of Innovation

If you have seen the PSAI’s Association Insight newsletters this year, you know that we are celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary in 2021. 

I don’t know if the 26 people who gathered in in January 1971 expected the association would be here half a century later. Thanks to their work, the dedication of the hundreds of volunteers who have followed, and the enthusiasm of our member companies, we are going stronger than ever and so is our industry. 

A series of newsletter articles has chronicled some of the industry’s milestones since the early 1940s. For example:

 World War II shipyards and the postwar homebuilding boom created the initial demand for portable sanitation options, making old-fashioned outhouses and privies obsolete.

 Portable sanitation pioneers built units out of plywood weighing between 350 and 400 pounds. These were eventually replaced by fiberglass units, which were lighter but more fragile. Eventually inventors and other visionaries took the baton to develop today’s line of waterproof, durable, lightweight polyethylene portable restrooms and hand-wash stations.

 The odor had to go. Chemists and imaginative thinkers developed formulas and transformed existing cleaning products into the staples of today’s deodorizer segment.

 Mechanics and engineers saw how concepts used in recreational vehicles and temporary housing could raise the bar for nonsewered sanitation. And with that, the specialty trailer industry was born.

How we got from the beginning to today is a fascinating study in creativity and business acumen. The people who built our industry at the beginning have largely passed on. Many of their descendants are still engaged, though, and they remind us that a firm foundation means our companies can survive some massive challenges. Even a pandemic.

The past 16 months have given us a storm not seen before in this industry. When COVID-19 hit and events shut down, many feared our industry would be devastated. Others saw opportunity. By finding ways to get things done in spite of shortages, cancellations and new demands, these leaders have helped usher in a new era for portable sanitation. As a result of their work, I believe we are going to see the following changes embedded in the future of our industry:

 Higher expectations for the cleanliness, servicing and ratios of portable units.

 The presence of hand-wash facilities wherever restrooms are present, and additional hand-wash or sanitizing options wherever food is served.

 Products and service options that ensure handwashing is feasible regardless of outdoor temperature.

 Higher demand for flushing systems and trailers.

 Greater awareness of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the need for portable equipment to provide substantially equivalent access and experiences for persons with disabilities.

Our portable sanitation forebears thought little about the fact that they were making history. Similarly, our industry peers today are focused on getting the job done. Let it be known that their innovations, earnestness and customer outreach are changing things. For good. Already we have seen operators and suppliers rising to address these changing demands. They drive home the point that portable sanitation can be better, not just during COVID, but all the time.

This is the tipping point the PSAI has been preparing for. I’ve written previously about our long-term strategy to evolve the reputation of portable sanitation from one in which our products and services were viewed as a “necessary evil” to one where they are seen as “a respected alternative.” 

John Gardener was wrong this time. We are witnessing history in the making folks, and we know what it looks like. It looks like this. 


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