2004 Spring/Summer Volume No. 3

Quest for the Indestructible Restroom Unit

Rodney Mullet
A.K.A. PolyRod
PolyJohn Enterprises Corporation
rodney.mullet@polyjohn.com


Our most frequent request at PolyJohn is to develop a plastic restroom that cannot be damaged by vandals. You want a unit that can’t be burned, marked, or broken.

I’ve been at PolyJohn for over 17 years and have been working on this problem since day one. Perhaps the answer is out there. Some day, some one will find the solution and patent it. However, until then here is what we know:

Flame retardant plastics are available that self-extinguish and do not burn, however the plastic additives are so expensive that they can substantially increase the price of a unit. While someday these additives may come down in price, or a new less expensive additive may be discovered, for the time being, most customers would prefer to lose the occasional unit to fire and collect the insurance or damage claim, than pay twice as much per unit.

Polyethylene, the plastic used in our portable sanitation products, is a pretty good material for fighting graffiti because most types of paint and ink will not stain it. However, magic markers can permanently stain polyethylene under the right circumstances. Polyethylene plastic has micro-scopic pores in its surface that swell in hot weather and contract in cold. Magic marker used in a cool or shady location can usually be cleaned from the surface using many of the graffiti removing cleaning products available today. However, if the marked unit sits in the sun all day and the plastic heats up, then the marker becomes permanently baked into the plastic. Once this happens there is no product that can remove the damage and a “shadow” of the graffiti will be left on the surface even when thoroughly cleaned. Some operators tell me they have had success using a razor to remove the thin layer of plastic surface that contains the marker ink. This may be effective, but razors are dangerous. One slip and you could make a permanent hole in the unit or cut a finger badly.

We have experimented with many different ideas to try and seal the microscopic pores in the plastic. We have also tried additives in the plastic that would repel graffiti. In fact, Ed Cooper, our CEO and I visited a company in Brooklyn, NY and invested $20,000 in a process that was supposed to be the ultimate answer. But we abandoned it during the first phase because we weren’t satisfied with the results. So far we have not come up with a solution that will work without weakening the plastic or creating another negative side effect. Nor have we heard of any other manufacturer who has solved this problem. However, the experiments will continue and maybe someday we’ll find the answer.

While polyethylene isn’t perfect, it has proven itself as being far lighter, more resilient, more weather resistant, and less odor absorbing than the plywood or fiberglass units of old. In the future, we will continue testing new ideas and new materials because if we can build a better restroom for you, then we will.

There is a famous one-liner in the 1968 movie The Graduate when a wise investor whispers to Dustin Hoffman’s character advice about the future. “Plastics” is all he says. The movie went on to win a couple of Oscars, and the plastics industry took off like a rocket and hasn’t slowed down since. At the end of the movie, Hoffman’s character gets the girl, but whether or not he took the advice about plastics, we’ll never know.

One man who did get into plastics in the late 60’s is Rodney Mullett, PolyJohn Enterprises’ resident plastics expert. Originally from England, Rodney came to this country with his parents in the 60’s. A child of the rock n’ roll generation, Rodney took up the drums at an early age and by the time he was in his twenties was touring with his own band the Sheffields. They cut a couple of records and opened for such rock legends as the Association and Tommy James and the Shondells. Eventually, the Viet Nam War broke up the band in the early 70’s and Rodney found work with a plastics company. The rest, as they say, is history.

Blessed with several mentors, thorough on-the-job training, and graduate-level college courses in polymer sciences, engineering and business, Rodney or “PolyRod” as he is affectionately called, became a renowned plastics engineer. His creativity as a musician has served him well in his design work with plastics. He and his team have been responsible for numerous innovations and patents in the portable restroom industry.

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