The facial-recognition machines at the Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing dole out around 60 centimetres of toilet paper per person. The same person cannot get more toilet paper until at least nine minutes have passed.
The move is an effort by authorities to curb excessive toilet paper use by park visitors. Local media reported that some people witnessed others stuffing their bags with the toilet paper – a problem the park has been facing since 2007, according to the BBC.
The New York Times reported that the six machines installed for a 15-day trial run, cost about $960 each and were met with both frustration and positivity by locals at the park.
“It’s a very bad habit,” said Qin Gang of the propensity for people to “exploit public goods” due to a history of poverty. “Maybe we can use technology to change how people think.”
The BBC quoted a park spokesperson as saying visitors suffering from diarrhea or in desperate need for more toilet paper can flag ground staff, who can provide more toilet paper. In the meantime, the older manual toilet paper dispensers have been kept in place throughout the trial period.
Another change for the park is that the toilet paper has been upgraded to two ply, instead of one ply.
According to the Beijing Evening News, the trial has been successful so far, with the park seeing a 20 per cent drop in daily toilet paper use.
But the technology isn’t without some sore spots.
There were reports of the machines taking up to 10 times longer than they are supposed to take to scan faces, leading to user confusion. And when some local reporters went to take a look over the weekend, two of the machines were broken. The novelty of the machines may have more people visiting the restrooms to try the machines out for themselves, which may, for the short term, outweigh the toilet paper savings.