Beijing city authorities have installed high-tech facial scanners to prevent theft of toilet paper in public toilets in some tourist areas. Apparently, the amount of toilet paper rolls that “disappear” from public toilets is a serious problem, especially in tourist areas such as the “Temple of Heaven” area, causing huge costs for the city.

To stop the thefts, the toilet paper has been removed from the toilets and is made available through special dispensers before you go in. The peculiarity of these distributors is that they are equipped with a sophisticated facial recognition system. To have their own ration of toilet paper (60 cm), users must position themselves in front of the machine, which scans the face and stores it temporarily. If the user returns to take more toilet paper for nine minutes, the machine recognises it and does not supply more paper. 
The system was developed in an attempt to reduce costs, apparently after a journalistic investigation that had discovered how many “users” of the public toilets at the “Temple of Heaven” would make more and more visits to the specific purpose of taking toilet paper.

use of the machine - via netease
A user grappling with the toilet paper dispenser. Image: Netease

The facial scanners have been activated as experimentation, and the authorities have already anticipated that if the reaction of the users will be negative, they will return to the traditional methods of dispensing toilet paper. If instead the technology proves to be effective, it is very likely that it will be adopted in other public toilets. For the experimentation period, human assistants have been placed in the toilets to check that the system works properly and to help with the dispenser.

So far, the reaction seems to have been mixed: some have criticised the system, but more than the technology itself the most felt problem is that 60cm of toilet paper would be too little for some errands! Others, however, are enthusiastic about the system, which avoids waste, and they hope for rapid adoption at national level.