Those “flushable wipes” create havoc in sewers!
The water and sewer agency for our Nation’s Capital (Washington D.C. Suburban Sanitary Commission) is just one of countless utilities around the country pleading with customers to stop flushing wipes down their toilets. During the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020, people started using “flushable wipes” more than ever. 1
The problem is, those wipes aren’t really flushable. While they will flush out of sight from your toilet bowl, they often go on to clog pipes and municipal sewer systems because the wipes do not break down like toilet paper. If they make it as far as wastewater pumping stations, they must be removed manually. Often, they don’t travel that far and end up clogging neighborhood sewer pipes when they combine with other waste such as cooking grease to form large clogs. 2
Recently, the not-really-flushable-wipes caused trouble in Lewes, Delaware. A wastewater pumping station there malfunctioned because of a clogged pump which resulted in untreated waste entering a canal that flows into the Delaware Bay.3
The video below from WSSC gives you a close-up look at the wipes that have been raked out of a D.C. wastewater pumping station. 2 Warning: It is not a pleasant site!
Some readers will remember a 130-ton “Fatberg” excavated from a London sewer in 2017 composed of accumulated cooking fat and personal wipes. The Fatberg was said to weigh approximately the same as 11 double-decker buses. Crews in the greater London area clear about 8 sewer blockages each week caused by wipes tangled with grease, with the record holder having been a 15-ton mass in 2013. 4
The director of the Baltimore City Department of Public Works puts their appeal this way, “I realize that we are especially concerned about disinfection and proper disposal of used facial tissues. That is admirable. But disinfectant wipes, tissues, paper towels and ‘flushable wipes’ DO NOT belong in the toilet.”5 They advise people to “dispose of cleaning items, wipes, paper towels, rags, etc. in a trash container. Using a plastic bag liner and occasional disinfectant spray is also helpful.”5
As they say, “Don’t use your toilet as a trash can. Keep the wipes out of the pipes!”2
1Domen, John. Remember: “Keep the wipes out of the pipes,” Regional Utility Says. WTOP News. 20 March 2020.
2WSSC Water. Keep the Wipes Out of the Pipes. Video. 19 March 2020.
3Parr, Chandler. Lewes BPW Urges People to Stop Using “Flushable Wipes” After Pump Station Malfunctioned. WRDE. 17 August 2021.
4Slotkin, Jason. Behold the Fatberg: London’s 130-Ton, “Rock Solid” Sewer Blockage. NPR. 12 September 2017.
5 Baltimore City Department of Public Works. Press Release. Please Protect Your Pipes: Don’t Flush Wipes. 20 March 2020.
This Site Was Inspired By An Interest in Protecting the Environment:
We had the privilege and joy of learning from Dr. Charlie Stine who instilled a love for the natural world through incredible field trips with the Johns Hopkins Odyssey Certificate program in Environmental Studies. At the time, the program was endorsed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Sadly, after Dr. Stine retired, the program was phased out. We hope that we honor his legacy by shining a bright light on environmental issues and sharing good news about the success of various conservation programs when possible.
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