Flushable wipes blamed for clogging pipes

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More and more people are using flushable wipes when they go to the bathroom. Despite being labeled as flushable, these wipes are being blamed nationwide for clogged toilets and backed up sewer systems.

“I think it’s just a marketing thing. You can flush a lot of things in your toilet, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to hang up in your plumbing,” said Andrew Jantzer, General Manager of wastewater facilities at York City Wastewater Treatment Plant. “The issues with flushable wipes and other products that aren’t toilet paper, are that they don’t break down. Toilet paper turns into mush when it gets wet, everything else stays as it is.”

Jantzer says the wipes haven’t caused problems for the plant, “We go out and we have 100 miles of sewer line in the city and the mains are kept well cleaned. In sewer systems that do not have aggressive cleaning systems like we do, there is probably three times more backups in the sewer mains,” said Jantzer.

It is homeowners who are seeing problems with the flushable wipes. “It doesn’t clog the city system, basically what it does clog is the customers system though. The homeowners pipes are smaller, they are about three inches to six inches at the largest. The city sewer system starts at eight inches and it gets a lot bigger and it has a lot more flow in it,” said Jantzer. “If a homeowner flushes something that isn’t toilet paper, it’s going to stay as it is and come down to the plant. That is if it makes it through their house plumbing system.”

Many sewer treatment plants have specialized equipment to handle objects that do not break down. “At our plant we have a five foot pipe that comes in and all of the sewage comes in that pipe. The first thing it does is goes through these giant rakes, and it rakes out all of the flushable products that have not broken down. The more we can get out at the head of the plant the better. It causes a lot of havoc throughout the rest of the plant if it makes it through. It clogs the pumps and channels and all kinds of tanks and other things that we have at the treatment plant.” said Jantzer.

After the plant, the products head to the landfill. “We put out about 12 tons a month of all those various products that aren’t toilet paper. We end up pulling that out with giant rakes and we send it to the landfill,” said Jantzer.

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