Can You Flush Wet Wipes? No! And Here’s Why
January 25, 2019
We’ve got some gripes with wet wipes.
All over the country, including Denver and the surrounding area, cities and wastewater management facilities have been dealing with the increasingly serious and costly problem of wet wipes causing major clogs and stoppages.
Wet wipes, including body wipes, baby wipes, hard-surface wipes, and makeup-remover wipes, are not designed to break down like toilet paper.
They can get stuck in sewer lines, combining with fat and grease to cause “fatbergs”—massive globs of fat held together with sanitary products like wet wipes.
Thames Water, a large water and wastewater company serving 15 million customers, spends over a million a month clearing blockages caused by things like fat, wet wipes, cotton pads, and diapers. They deal with around 5 blockages caused by wet wipes every hour (Thames Water).
If they do make it past the sewer lines, they end up at the local wastewater management facility, where they get trapped by screens. The wipes collect on the screens and have to be frequently removed.
According to Steve Rogowski, director of operations and maintenance for the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District in metro Denver, removing the wet wipes and sending them to a landfill costs the district around $100,000 every year.
In a 2014 news article by the Denver Post, a tenant residing on Lima Street in Aurora, Colorado discovered that wastewater was backing up from his toilet. He called a plumber to have the toilet checked and upon inspection, a snake was inserted into the drain to fix the problem.
Confident that his plumbing is in tip-top shape already, the tenant flushed his toilet the next day only to be greeted by a non-stop flow of water. Frances Quintana, another tenant in the building, was caught in the same horrifying situation. She checked from house to house and found out that everyone was experiencing the same plumbing issue.
What Caused the Problem?
Aurora Water sent their crew to investigate the messy situation and they discovered that wet wipes were the culprit. Apparently, these soft yet strong things, which are being used by many of us for personal hygiene, cleaning or wiping off makeup, were being incessantly flushed down the toilets and they got trapped in the main sewer line.
Because of the massive clog, back-ups followed, affecting all the drains and toilets that were connected to the main line.
Unfortunately, Aurora is not the only area that has suffered from this sewer problem. In fact, Portland, Maine, also launched a campaign against the flushing of wipes down the toilets because sewer clogging is also a known problem in the area.
The Washington, D.C. local government, meanwhile, spent a million dollars in 2013 to invest in heavy-duty grinders that are used to break the wipes into smaller pieces before they can reach the pumps. Across the world, wet wipes are wiping out budgets and the costs are being passed on to customers.
What Have We Learned?
While many people flush wet wipes without thinking about it, across town city workers are putting on hazmat suits and climbing down narrow tunnels to get rid of them the proper way—through the trash system.
To get rid of sewer clogs and put the drainage system back in good condition, wipes are removed from the pipes and moved to a landfill which costs the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District (Metro Denver) $100,000 annually.
Just because you can flush something doesn’t mean you should. The only things that should be flushed are human-waste and toilet paper. That’s it.
With adequate awareness and better education on the proper toilet and wet wipe use, this kind of problem can be lessened, if not totally avoided.
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