Don’t Let Toilet Paper Shortage Clog Your Sewer

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Don’t let the toilet paper shortage drain your wallet. If you’ve been trying to brainstorm other things you can substitute for TP, it’s time to flush those ideas away. Or, more accurately … DON’T FLUSH IT!

Practicing good hygiene and keeping surfaces clean is essential now more than ever. But if you’re using baby wipes, disinfectant wipes, paper towels or anything that isn’t actual toilet paper, they must go directly into the trash when you’re done.

Vancouver Public Works and Clark Regional Wastewater District remind everyone that other than human waste, only toilet paper is safe to flush. It doesn’t matter if the product says ‘flushable’ on the label.

The inaccurate marketing and subsequent flushing of wipes and other non-toilet-paper products is an ongoing and costly problem. When flushed, these products clog sewer pipes and pump stations, increase utility maintenance, create environmental concerns and vex workers throughout the wastewater system.

With toilet paper flying off the shelves in grocery stores, a spike in demand spurred by the rapidly evolving novel coronavirus epidemic, consumers have also been buying up large quantities of wipes, paper towels, facial tissues, and paper napkins – perhaps looking for other options. Wastewater treatment providers around the country are bracing for the potential major sewage blockages and possible overflows that could follow if residents don’t heed the warning now.

According to Shawn Moore, Assistant Manager, Clark Regional Wastewater District, “Non-dispersible materials, such as diapers and wipes, contribute to blocking sewer pipes and are a serious maintenance problem for both the District and private property owners.”

Wipes, towels and other products flushed down toilets across the community have to be removed by hand as they get stuck and build up in various parts of the wastewater system. After pulling out the ropey masses of guck, workers must drain off liquid and put the remaining solids into containers, which are sent to landfills.

“We have not detected an increase in wipes at this time, but we are extremely concerned,” Frank Dick, City of Vancouver wastewater engineering supervisor, said. “We are already spending a great amount of time and resources to remove large masses of wipes and non-woven paper products from sewer pump stations and wastewater treatment facilities. The potential for an increase in these materials being flushed into the system now is enormous.”

Here’s why: Wipes – such as baby wipes and household cleaning cloths – are made of tough nonwoven fibers and shaped and sized by manufacturers so they can be flushed and forgotten by consumers. These fibers are meant to be very durable – some even contain plastic – and they do not break down in the same manner as, say, toilet paper. After using, the safest and best place to dispose of these products is in the garbage.

Awareness of this concern and the need for clear direction about proper disposal of these products is on the rise. Earlier this month, a strongly supportive Washington Legislature passed a bill, now awaiting the Governor’s signature, that will require a prominent display of a Do Not Flush symbol on certain non-woven wipes products. The goal: Make it very clear to consumers that the proper means of disposal is the trash, not the toilet.

So even if there’s a toilet paper shortage on grocery store shelves, please avoid the temptation to flush any other products.

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