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Are Flushable Wipes Really Flushable?

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The use of wet wipes has grown considerably in recent years. You know the ones. There are baby wipes to use during diaper changes, anti-bacterial wipes for cleaning surfaces, ones for sanitizing your hands and those designed for personal use in the bathroom. While there are many different practical uses for all of these myriad wipes, there’s one thing that they all have in common: none should go into a wastewater collection system.

Go to the grocery store and walk down the aisle where the sanitary wipes intended for personal bathroom use are located. They’ll probably be in the same location as the toilet paper. Look at the packaging and you will see almost all of the products emblazoned with words like “flushable” and “disposable.” That sounds good, right? Wrong.

The claims made by these products aren’t necessarily wrong. Yes, you can dispose of the wipes, and yes, the wipes are able to be flushed down a toilet. What these products don’t mention is that the real problems start once the wipes have left the toilet bowl. Wipes like these do not break down in pipes the way that toilet paper does. Toilet paper is designed to easily break up once it has been introduced to water and the wastewater collection system. This isn’t so for the wipes.

This video from Consumer Reports perfectly illustrates this:

Once those wipes go into the wastewater collection system, they can cause all kinds of problems, including clogged pumps at the lift stations and clogged pipes as well.

Wipes don’t just cause problems to BPUB’s wastewater collection system. They can also cause major problems for customers. Accumulation of wipes can ultimately lead to service interruptions, clogged pipes and sanitary sewer overflows. Those are problems that neither you nor your neighbor want to face.
The problems associated with wipes affect wastewater collection systems worldwide. England has seen all kinds problems associated with wipes. Years of FOG (fats, oils and grease) and wipes accumulated to form a 15-ton mass that caused major problems for London’s wastewater system. That “fatberg,” as it was dubbed, was said to be the size of a Boeing 747! The issues are not isolated to London, though.

Here in the United States, there is a lot of action in the court system, including a push in New York to remove “flushable” from the labels of wipes. A Supreme Court decision could even pave the way for municipalities to bill marketers for damage caused by flushable wipes, and one manufacturer even agreed to stop promoting its wipes as flushable. The results of a class action lawsuit involving cities and agencies in Minnesota and Wisconsin along with continued litigation from individual residents (one couple won a $15,000 judgment against Bloomington, Minn., because of sewer backups associated with wipes) could bring major changes in the years to come.

In the meantime, do your part and don’t forget to toss the wipes in the trash, not the toilet.

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