Let’s wipe out a costly foible in the bathroom

It’s all fun and games until your elbow deep to prevent a sewage backup. An employee of the Clackamas Water Environment Services uses the strength of his left-arm strength to keep himself from laying a mucky floor. Photo courtesy of CWES

Toss, don’t flush: Backed-up sewage would wipe a smile off anyone’s face

Wipe out! The unpleasant image greets wastewater employees throughout the state as they work more and more to unclog sewage pipes from disinfectant wipes and other “disposable” products. Photo courtesy of CWES

Toilet talk. You probably don’t mention much how we all should … ahem … handle our own personal systems, and much less with strangers. TMI, amiright?

Disposable wipes can seriously jam up your sewage system, and not only is the repair costly, but what greets plumbers as they pull out the mess, is just yuck. Experts in urban and rural areas reported in April that wastewater crews have been quite busy declogging messes. As summer marches on, and other stresses hit our water systems, please use this easy and cost-saving tip: only toilet paper goes in the toilet.

Disposable wipes, baby wipes, and other easy cleaners are great for a variety of different household jobs — disinfecting the bathroom, cleaning baby’s bottom, wiping down the inside of your car, taking off your eyeliner before bed, and in some cases killing COVID-19 viruses that may be lingering on your home’s surfaces.

These wipes, however, are not great for your pipes, septic system and/or your sewer system. Toilet paper is made of wood fiber and is designed to break down quickly. Most wipes are made of non-woven polyester and polypropylene. Most wipe materials do not break down into organic compounds, in fact, they don’t break down at all.

Imagine all the wipes a person could use in a day. Now multiply that by the number of people in your town or city. That’s a lot, and guess where they all end up if they are flushed – at the wastewater treatment plant, if they don’t get tangled up in toilets and sewer pipes first.

Don’t flush money down the toilet, toss wet wipes in the trash. Adobe stock

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported last April Washington County Clean Water Services was keeping busy unclogging pipes from a number of non-flushable items clogging up pump stations. Backed up sewage could overflow back into homes or storm drains, OPB reported.

Once at the wastewater treatment plant they can form disgusting wads of wipes, and other trash, glued together by other things like grease, oils, fats and things you’d probably rather not think about.

These wads clog up pumps, screens, pipes and other wastewater infrastructure, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage. Because there is no mechanical way to remove those wads of wipes from pipes or pumps a person has to gear up and clean them out by hand – yuck and possibly dangerous!

Enterprise Public Works employees told the local Wallowa County newspaper that small town pump stations have needed to be unclogged, though not as much as big cities. They added that employees are more vulnerable to COVID-19 every time they have to clear a sewer line, the newspaper reported.

And meanwhile, the wastewater treatment system is shut down, potentially causing sewage back-ups and leading to public health concerns. As for those wipes labelled flushable…well, better not. Tests show they just don’t break down as quickly as toilet paper, so that they are still whole when they reach your septic tank or wastewater treatment plant.

So what to do? Pretty simple, really. Just put those handy wipes in the garbage can, not the toilet.

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