So much of our money regularly (and literally) goes down the drain, that I’m surprised many of us simply go with the flow of the convenience. And most importantly, although the label may say ‘flushable’, many of the sanitary items we use and chuck down the u-bend, are not at all biodegradable.
One particular item keeps resurfacing in the news as a big sewage blockage culprit: the wet wipe. The arch-nemesis of sewer workers and the environment alike.
Many companies claim that their wet wipes have been tested and are safe to flush. They make this claim based on the degradation of the wipes, during the flushing process, and the effect of the water hitting the material. Flush it and it will fall to pieces, is the boast.
Meanwhile, water companies, responsible for managing the sewerage systems the wipes end up in, try to replicate these tests and keep failing to achieve the same results. One disgruntled lab technician, from the Water Research Council in the UK, likened the required whirlpool force needed to break down a wet wipe to that of a cyclone. If you’ve ever laundered a wipe in your washing machine, only to find it emerge intact, then it’s easy to imagine that not much happens to its structure once it goes down the drain.
Once they’re down there, they gang up and create barriers for everything else nasty coming behind them. Human waste is only the half of it. Fatbergs, those monsters of the modern age, build up when the grease and oil in the water gather against wipes and other debris after the water passes through. Multiply this exponentially by the gallons and seconds of the world’s sewer systems, and you end up with 64m (209ft) long piles of fat, grease and heaven only knows what else, blocking the sewer. Someone has to go down there and deal with that.
On top of the outstanding blocking attributes of wet wipes, the majority contain plastic and, much like in synthetic clothes, also release microplastics when agitated. These microscopic plastic particles are literally everywhere, with trillions of particles, amounting to millions of tonnes, sitting in our oceans, dusting beaches and towns, and increasingly also found in human bodies.
In conclusion: do NOT flush wet wipes.
While researching articles for this blog I have also found out something I am guilty of having done many times before, which is flushing hair. And although it is unlikely that it will clog the toilet when a small quantity is flushed, it can definitely contribute to the issue down the line (or pipe).
Here’s a helpful list of things which we shouldn’t flush:
- Sanitary products
- Wet wipes (baby wipes, face wipes, cleaning wipes, etc.)
- Cotton buds (swabs/q-tips), especially those on plastic sticks
- Cotton balls or makeup remover pads – switch to reusable instead
- Kitchen roll or paper towels
- Dental floss
- Food and chewing gum
- Oil (here’s why, please note the video includes graphic images)
- Cardboard or paper
- Kitty litter
- Fish and other small pets
- Paint or other chemicals in large quantities (including bleach)
- Medicine (disposing guidance in the USA vs. the UK)
Does that list look a bit long?
Here’s what you can flush: the three Ps (toilet paper being one).
- Don’t believe the label ‘flushable’
- 11 things you should never flush down the toilet
- Common items you should never flush
- No ‘flushable’ wet wipes tested so far pass water industry tests
- Microplastics and humans
- Think twice about flushing wet wipes
- Green alternatives to wet wipes