We are fortunate to live in a society marked by plentiful, high quality consumer goods that keep getting better. One that comes to mind is all those packaged wet tissues advertised by their makers as “flushable wipes.” They are good for cleaning up spills, wiping baby bottoms, removing splotches from our bodies and furnishings and more. They are cheap, so when you’re done using you can simply dispose of them without regret.
Be careful about the flushable part, though. Sure, they’ll go down the toilet easy enough, but they can wreak havoc with sewer systems both at the residential line and farther down at the wastewater treatment plant.
The wipes are made of tough fiber, which is the problem. Unlike toilet paper, they do not break down easily as they travel down the sewer system. Close to home, they can get caught on tree roots or rough surfaces inside your sewer line. Once one catches, it snags a next one, then a next one, and so on until you end up with a clog that’s a challenge to clear.
Those that do pass through your sewer line end up mating with thousands of others at a screen that marks the beginning of the wastewater treatment process. Workers have to manually pull out debris caught in these screens. Flushable wipes make their job tougher and ultimately raise the price of sewage treatment for home owners like you.
If they pass through the screens, the wipes accumulate at lift stations, where the sewage flow enters. There they get put through grinders, but because they are made of tough fiber, they cause the grinders to break or wear out quickly. Again, we taxpayers ultimately foot the bill.
Sewage treatment plants must take water samples to make sure they comply with EPA standards.
Another problem occurs when wipes get caught in the suction line for the sampling tube. When the tube gets plugged, the samples get skewed. Sometimes “flushable” wipes get caught in pumps as well, leading to costly breakdowns.
Some wipes are tougher than others. In general, those advertised as baby wipes are toughest of all. They are wonderful products for that reason. By all means go ahead and use them. Just don’t believe the labels when they say the products are flushable. Instead, put them in the garbage along with the dirty diapers.