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Scroll below the press release for more on safeguarding the use of public restrooms . . .

ARA Says Starbucks Must Keep its Bathrooms Open to the Public, Citing U.S. Plumbing Codes

Catonsville, Maryland, USA (August 23, 2022)Recently, CNN reported that “Starbucks can’t be America’s public bathroom,” and that the company, according to CEO Howard Schultz and top leadership, is considering “closing restrooms” as an option (https://www.cnn.com/2022/07/21/business/starbucks-bathrooms-stores-closing/index.html).

However, according to the American Restroom Association (ARA), the nation’s leading advocate for clean, safe, and well-designed public restrooms, Starbucks cannot legally do this, as it would violate U.S. plumbing codes. Said ARA President Steven Soifer, Ph.D.: “According to the International Plumbing Code (IPC 403.3)  Starbucks (as well as other business establishments) must make their toilet facilities available to ‘customers, patrons, and visitors’ defined as anyone walking into their place of business.” Each of the currently applicable plumbing codes in all governmental jurisdictions across the country requires this accommodation (see, for example, coverage in the Wall Street Journal .

“If Starbucks either closes all their bathrooms or limits their use to actual paying customers, the company will find itself running afoul of municipal, county or state plumbing codes and opens itself up to either fines or lawsuits or both,” said Soifer. For better or worse, and until there are better solutions (more municipally funded public toilets, preferably of the single-occupancy, all-gender design), people – customers or not – will rely on Starbucks, which must continue to be “America’s public bathroom.”

Contact: Steven Soifer, Ph.D. President, ARA • steve@americanrestroom.org • 443.898.2141 • Click here for a full .pdf copy of this release.

Issue in trying to find or use a public restroom?

If you were not allowed to use the restroom in a building (customer restrooms are typically a requirement of the building plumbing codes), we suggest you contact your local commercial building code enforcement office. Being aware of how the code “reads” before calling will make it less likely that a busy code enforcement official will tell you there is no “customer restroom” code. Click here for an unofficial code sample. Many codes are handled at the lowest levels of government structure such as a city, municipality, or township; next at perhaps the county level; and in small instances, at the state level. Start local and work up. Municipal public health departments typically require that mandated restrooms be sanitary and in particular, that food handling establishments have restrooms that are clean and include soap and hot water. Most food establishments with inside dining require restrooms for patrons. While most governments rely on either the International Plumbing Code (IPC) or Universal Plumbing Code (UPC) basic structures, there are no United States Federal Restroom codes. We’re advocating to change that, so donate to support our progress. A few additional suggestions:

  • For disability and access issues, the U.S. Department of Justice provides information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) through a toll-free ADA Information Line.
  • If your issue relates to not being allowed to use a toilet in the workplace, please consider directing your question to the appropriate Regional or Area Office of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration.
  • Government offices not providing satisfaction? Reach out to your local elected officials. They usually have staff members who are very connected to the appropriate enforcement staff.
  • Willing to put your name out there in spite of what was probably a very embarrassing situation? Contact your local news outlets.
  • Lastly, an attorney can determine what laws or rights have been infringed, but you will have to consider the investment in time and money that may be required to press your case.

While the ARA does not advocate in specific cases, please tell us what you learn so we can post your success stories and encourage others to continue to fight for their basic human rights. Read below for more from ARA Vice President and Architect Kathryn Anthony. . .

Keep Washing Your Hands – But Where?

It’s Time for a 2020 Civilian Conservation Corps to Rebuild Our Nation’s Public Restrooms

By ARA Vice President, Kathryn H. Anthony, Ph. D.


The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness of public health and safety, especially the need to wear a mask, keep at least six feet apart whenever possible, and wash your hands several times a day for at least 20 seconds, the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday to You” – twice. While using our private bathrooms in the comfort of our own homes, it is easy to sing a happy song. But now that the nation has reopened, where else can we wash our hands? Our re-emergence during this pandemic shines a spotlight on a problem that has been swept under the rug for too long: our nation’s public restrooms.

Ten years ago I testified before the US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about an issue “near and dear to the hearts and bladders of women and children all across the United States, one that is long overdue:” the prevalent problem of long lines for ladies’ rooms and the need for greater potty parity, equal speed of access for toilets for males and females. I argued then, as I do today, that for millions of people around the world, boys and girls, men and women of all ages, especially pregnant and menstruating women, and whether you are Democrat, Republican, or Green, using public restrooms is no laughing matter.

The average person uses a toilet about six to eight times a day, as many as 2,920 times per year. By age 80 we will have taken 200,000 trips to the toilet and spent two years of our life in restrooms.

At the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, the vast majority of shops, restaurants, and hotels whose toilets we have been accustomed to using while on the go were closed. Finding restrooms became near impossible. Yet well before this pandemic, public restrooms in the US have long presented pressing public health problems. (To read the full article, click here.)

Kathryn H. Anthony, Ph.D., is ACSA Distinguished Professor at the School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the author of five books including Defined by Design: The Surprising Power of Hidden Gender, Age, and Body Bias in Everyday Products and Places (Prometheus Books 2017), and over 100 publications. She currently serves as Vice President of the American Restroom Association.

Published July 5, 2020
(C) 2020, American Restroom Association and Kathryn Anthony, All Rights Reserved






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American Restroom Association, Inc.
P.O. Box 21237
Catonsville, MD 21228

Phone:  800-247-3864
Email: getinfo@americanrestroom.org

An independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 2004

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