Marana Water News: "Flushable" Wipes?

In previous posts we have discussed our Grecycle program, the goal of which is to help eliminate fats, oils, and grease from getting into the sewer system and potentially causing damage or sewer overflows. This week we highlight another culprit that has been returning in the news, disposable or flushable wipes.

 Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission facility technician Steve Thomas uses a modified shopping cart to catch ’flushable’ wipes Wednesday before they get to pumps and clog sewer equipment in Greenbelt. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission facility technician Steve Thomas uses a modified shopping cart to catch ’flushable’ wipes Wednesday before they get to pumps and clog sewer equipment in Greenbelt. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

These types of personal wipes are flushed at an ever increasing frequency and can clog up sewer lines and wastewater processing equipment. The nonwoven fabrics have a harder time breaking down than regular toilet paper, and can catch other fats, oils and grease pockets in the sewer system. Large cities like New York and Washington D.C. spend millions a year to process these types of cloths out of their systems. New York City alone spends close to $10 million a year managing machinery and repairing expensive clogs, according to a 2015 article by The Guardian. Flushing more durable items like these wipes and paper towels increases the chance that the sewer line can clog.

 Clog pulled from a wastewater treatment facility in Washington D.C. These are the types of clogs that can be caused from "flushable" wipes. 

Clog pulled from a wastewater treatment facility in Washington D.C. These are the types of clogs that can be caused from "flushable" wipes. 

Part of the problem comes from the packaging in which these wipes are sold. They clearly say "flushable" on the packaging. To help combat some of this confusion, the International Nonwovens and Disposables Association and the European Disposables and Nonwovens Association have developed a voluntary code of practice to prevent these types of products from entering the sewer system. In November 2016, DC Water presented to the DC Council to prevent this label from being applied to wipes that are truly not flushable. These types of discussions are happening across the country, and there is some interest from the Federal Trade Commission.

Marana Water operates a water reclamation facility for the sewer customers in north Marana. Getting a clog in any part of the system can damage infrastructure and can cause backups in the lines and at the treatment facility. While it may not seem like the biggest issue facing our utilities, the expenses from these types of clogs can be extremely high. Overflows and system failures prevent our customers from seeing continuity of service, but also prevent our staff from working on normal maintenance to keep the system running. Think twice before flushing those wipes.


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