District News Articles

  2. Just as disposable diapers are now considered a necessity for babies, disposable wipes (also known as “wet” wipes, baby wipes, or even adult wipes) have become a staple in every household. Besides being marketed to new parents, special-use wipes are being marketed to women to help them feel "fresh" or to everyone in general “to feel confidently clean” -- thanks a lot, Madison Avenue.


    We're hooked on the convenience of these pre-moistened squares that are boldly labeled “flushable”. But here's the problem: A lot of them end up down the toilet, and none are flushable no matter what the packaging states. Well, they flush just fine -- but the cloth-like products don't disintegrate the way toilet paper does. That's where it starts to cost local utilities and you money.


    Consumer Reports notes that companies currently advertise their wipes with terms like "safe for sewers and septic," or promise that the product will "break up like toilet paper." But this is simply not the case. “Flushable wipes are a consumer’s dream come true but every plumber’s nightmare,” one local plumbing company stated. "It only takes a few wipes to get hung up … for a major disaster to happen. No matter what the packaging says, flushable wipes are not flushable," the company notes on its website. While clogs can develop from any number of items, plumbers will now tell you that one of the most common causes of clogs today are moistened wipes. These wipes simply do not disintegrate as they move through your plumbing system. While one or two may move through the pipes, when you send multiple wipes down over time, the clogging begins.


    To illustrate this point, Consumer Reports did a "disintegration test" on three brands of flushable wipes and found that after 30 minutes of simulated swirling (just like a toilet bowl) the wipe was still intact. The wipe showed no signs of even beginning to break down. By comparison, toilet paper began to break down in 8 seconds.


    City sewer systems around the United States are reporting expensive repair and maintenance issues resulting from flushed wipes, according to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. For example:


    ·       In the past five years the Orange County (Calif.) Sanitation District has spent $2.4 million on new equipment, and more than $300,000 in one year to unclog pumps.


    ·       Columbus (Ga.) Water Works has spent $550,000 in two years on new equipment and $250,000 per year on additional operating/maintenance costs.


    ·       The city of Vancouver, Wash., has paid more than $650,000 in five years for new pumps and equipment, and spends more than $100,000 each year on extra maintenance and electricity.


    "Simply keeping inappropriate items out of the sewer system could prevent all of these problems and save clean water agencies -- and, ultimately, the public -- a significant amount of money," the NACWA reports.


    If you are a fan of flushable wipes, it may be time to rethink your actions. You say that you've been flushing them for years with no problem? Then you've been very lucky. But one day you could find yourself with a nice sewage backup in the basement or the bathtub.


    For the sake of your plumbing, either dispose of wipes in the trashcan or stop using them to avoid a messy and potentially expensive disaster. No matter what the packaging says, flushable wipes are not flushable.


    So keep the wipes out of the pipes, unless you like paying plumbers and/or cleaning up after sewage backups which, frankly, is anything but convenient.