A Fuqua student is jumping feet-first into the Porta-Potty business.
Responding to the dirtiness of the doors of portable toilets, Robert Josh Lehr, an MBA exchange student, invented SANI LOCK Hands-Free, an attachment to portable toilets that allows users to open the door from the inside without touching a soiled door handle. By pressing down on specific levers using the feet, a user can lock or unlock the door with minimal transmission of bacteria. Several Porta-Potty models have been fitted for presentation at the upcoming North Carolina State Fair where patrons will be allowed to try out the new technology for themselves starting Thursday.
Lehr mentioned that the idea for SANI LOCK started to form when he attended a barbecue in La Jolla, Calif. several years ago. Lehr was forced to use the portable restrooms at the event because no permanent restrooms were available, and he was disgusted by the poor sanitary conditions.
“I was just thinking to myself, ‘There’s got to be a better way,’ and as I’m walking past the barbecue I literally thought, ‘I wonder how many people grabbed that door handle on the way out,’” Lehr said.
Although hand sanitizer can be provided inside portable toilets at large outdoor gatherings, Lehr said it does not effectively block the transmission of bacteria because the door handle must still be touched to exit. Additionally, many restroom units do not come equipped with hand sanitizer because it is not required.
SANI LOCK uses two levers—depressing the inner lever with the foot locks the door, and depressing the outer lever unlocks the door. Used in conjunction with hand sanitizer, restroom users will be able to clean their hands and open the door with their feet, avoiding contamination after sanitizing.
Lehr said he hopes that the system will make events where many people gather in close proximity—such as sporting events, wedding venues and concerts—more sanitary for people using the portable restrooms.
Darrin Merritt, the on-grounds manager for the State Fair, said that few of the restrooms at large events have hand-sanitizing dispensers. He added that despite efforts to clean the toilets at the Fair every night, they tend to get ruined throughout the day. He noted that the dirtiness of Porta-Potties is exacerbated when users dispose of food in the toilet.
Lehr’s colleague and initial draftsman Jared Fischer said that Lehr has been working to make SANI LOCK a patented reality since they met approximately six and a half years ago. Fischer noted that the next hurdle for SANI LOCK to overcome is marketing to portable restroom companies. He praised Lehr for success at previous showcases in Oregon.
“Everyone who sees it thinks it’s a fantastic idea,” Fischer said. “Nowadays there’s not many new ideas coming out because everyone’s kind of thought of everything, so I think it’s kind of cool to see something a little new and innovative.”
Merritt, however, was concerned with the sanitation of the Fair’s restroom units. He said he will have to see the device in action to fully understand its advantages.
“It’s just something that when we get it we’re going to have to see how it works,” he said. “I’m curious to see it myself.”
There will be three SANI LOCK Porta-Potties and three regular Porta-Potties placed next to each other near gate 11 for fair attendees to test.
The fair begins Oct. 17 and continues until Oct. 27.