Owners of Singapore’s new HDB flats hate eco-friendly toilet bowls, dump them as soon as they move in

  • After moving into their new BTO flats, some residents would replace the default toilet bowls due to design preference and functionality concerns
  • Homeowners do not like the eco-toilet’s flush and prefer customising their bathroom fittings to better align with their preferred interior design
  • Contractors note a growing trend in replacing new toilet bowls at BTO flats
  • This has prompted calls for better waste management solutions from environmentalists and social enterprises
  • HDB said that it enhanced fittings for BTO flats in 2019 and observed a reduction in the number of discarded pedestal pans

SINGAPORE, July 8 — After receiving the keys to their brand new Build-to-Order (BTO) flat last year, Mr Jake Cheng and his wife Sandra Low eagerly began planning the renovation of their dream home.

One of their first decisions was to replace the default toilet bowls that came with the flat.

Mr Cheng, a 36-year-old banker, said that they did not wish to keep them because his wife, 31, also a banker, did not find the eco-toilet design, which integrates a wash basin with the toilet pedestal, appealing.

“We’ve also heard one too many stories from other owners of it malfunctioning and flooding the toilet,” he told TODAY, referring to a chat group of homeowners living within the same public housing block as the couple in Toa Payoh.

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Among the issues talked about in the chat group, seen by TODAY, were uncontrollable water gushing from the toilet bowl when flushed and water continuously flowing from the wash basin.

Asked what happened to the default toilet bowls, Mr Cheng said that he asked their renovation contractor to help dispose of them.

“We did feel it was a waste because the toilet bowls were brand new. I’m sure HDB also charged us for them.

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“But I think my wife would have been happy with the choice to opt out of having the toilet bowls that come with our flat in the first place, so we can pick one that suits our taste.”

All BTO flats, which come under the Housing and Development Board (HDB), have toilet bowls, also known as a water closet suite, in the bathroom.

This is independent of the Optional Component Scheme, which allows buyers to select and pay for added optional components in their new flat.

The eco-toilet design, first introduced in 2014, was part of a suite of green features to ensure that new HDB towns were clean, green and healthy.

In 2019, HDB introduced significant upgrades to several fittings, including a new range of rimless toilet bowls with enhanced flushing mechanisms.

These improvements effectively phased out the eco-toilet design for newer BTO projects completed in 2023 and beyond.

Rising requests for toilet bowl upgrades

Contractors interviewed by TODAY have noted a growing trend in the last five years of clients choosing to remove the default BTO toilet bowls in favour of buying their own.

Some contractors estimated that around 30 to 60 per cent of their clients opted for this change, while others reported that as many as 90 per cent requested the removal of the provided toilet bowls.

Concerned about the wastage, environmentalists have urged homeowners to consider reselling or giving their unwanted toilet bowls to lower-income families instead of having them sent straight to the dumping ground.

Aesthetics and functionality were among the main reasons homeowners preferred to wash their hands of the default toilet bowls.

Homemaker Lynnette Lee, 34, who moved into her BTO flat in Sengkang in August 2022, said that she did not appreciate the eco-toilet design.

“I think the sink being there was just weird. I’m not sure if this is even true, but the design also gave me the impression that it’s not very hygienic.”

The eco-pedestal with a wash basin allows water used for handwashing to be redirected to the cistern for the next flush. HDB said that this helps residents to save water by reusing it for toilet flushing.

Ultimately, Ms Lee’s default toilet bowls were discarded.

She said that it would be good if the housing authority found a viable solution to allow residents to opt out of having the provided toilet bowls. It would have saved her the hassle of replacing them.

“Alternatively, if HDB had a return scheme whereby owners who want to install their own toilet bowls can return the default ones, then perhaps the wastage can be reduced,” she added.

“Maybe families in need can also benefit from receiving these new, unused toilet bowls from other owners.”

Mr David Lee, operations director of RenoFix SG, observed that fewer clients would ask to replace the toilet bowl in BTO flats before the eco-toilet design was introduced — unless they wanted a bigger or fancier one.

This, coupled with the trend of homeowners preferring to personalise their living space, including bathrooms, have led to contractors receiving more requests about such replacement works.

“When working on-site at a new BTO estate, some clients engage us on the spot after seeing us doing the replacement works. Then, from there, we’d get around 15 to 20 requests from other units in the same block.

“As for external engagements, we’d get around five to eight of such requests a month,” he said.

Similarly, Mr Joven Quek, manager of Home Reno, said that before the eco-toilet design came out, only one out of 10 clients would engage him to replace their toilet bowls in new flats. Now, such requests are 30 per cent higher.

Mr Wilson Ng, business development manager of Sin Yau Seng Carpentry & Renovation, said that based on his experience, most owners would also find that the eco-toilet’s flush is not powerful enough and often needs a double flush to do the job.

“Almost eight or nine in 10 of my customers would do away with the eco-toilet. Most will at least replace the one in the master bedroom’s bathroom.”

When met with such requests, Mr Ng said that the plumber would dispose of the toilet bowls accordingly. “But nowadays, it is also common practice for some owners to give them away through their estate’s group chats.”

A discarded toilet bowl (left) and sink (right) from a Build-to-Order flat. The toilet bowl is designed to allow water used for handwashing at an attached basin to be directed to its water tank and used to flush the toilet. — Picture courtesy of Reno Guys

A discarded toilet bowl (left) and sink (right) from a Build-to-Order flat. The toilet bowl is designed to allow water used for handwashing at an attached basin to be directed to its water tank and used to flush the toilet. — Picture courtesy of Reno Guys

Over at another firm Reno Guys, its managing director Faiq Djasin said that he encourages recycling as a company policy.

Rather than discarding the removed sanitary fittings, he would suggest that clients reinstall them in their relatives’ homes to replace older ones.

“We also recommend homeowners to share in their neighbours’ chat groups or try to resell them online with Carousell.

“Sometimes, we’ll also ask owners if they’d be willing to give the toilet bowls away when we get to know people who are less fortunate,” he said.

Calls for HDB initiative on waste reduction

In Ms Vanessa Tan’s eyes, toilet bowls are just the tip of the iceberg.

Ms Tan, operations and marketing manager of Stridy, a non-profit organisation addressing urban waste management issues worldwide, said that she had also observed other fittings such as folding doors and sinks piled up at the dumping ground.

“Singapore has become an affluent society with families having more disposable income. So people also tend to be more particular about how they want to furnish their homes,” she added.

“If this is the trend going forward, and we’re expecting more residents throwing away the fittings and fixtures that come with the flat, there will be a lot of wastage.”

Ms Tan pointed out that this situation also applies to those buying resale flats, since some owners prefer buying a brand new toilet bowl after moving in for better hygiene.

She said that ceramic and porcelain, materials commonly used to build toilet bowls, can be easily disinfected with just hot water, bleach and alcohol disinfectant.

“As much as possible, owners should try to resell or give away the toilet bowls, especially unused ones.

“Environmentally, it doesn’t make sense for something new to be thrown away.”

Mr Duncan Craig, sustainability director of reXtore, a social enterprise, said that HDB should consider coming up with an initiative to collect back the unwanted and unused toilet bowls so that they may be better used elsewhere.

“For example, if 30 per cent of residents (of a new BTO estate) throw them away, it’s a huge cost to HDB. It doesn’t make sense for new, expensive items to be thrown away in a landfill.”

In response to TODAY’s queries, HDB said that the installation of water closets enables mandatory low-pressure air tests to be carried out.

This ensures that the entire sanitary system is airtight and sewer odours will not be emitted into the flat.

It added that the low-pressure air test is required by national water agency PUB for BTO projects to obtain the temporary occupation permit for completion and provide quality assurance to flat owners.

On queries about the eco-toilet design, the housing authority said that it has progressively updated the fittings provided in HDB flats over the years to keep pace with improved quality, designs and functionality, and to better cater to residents’ needs.

The latest update in February 2019 brought significant improvements, such as a new line of rimless toilets with enhanced flushing capabilities, it added.

“Since the introduction of the new model, HDB has observed a reduction in the number of discarded pedestal pans.”

TODAY has also reached out to the National Environment Agency about possible initiatives with HDB to take discarded toilet bowls back, but it has not responded at publication time. — TODAY

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