Wipes stop pipes
It might seem like an easy cleaning solution – use a bathroom wipe and then flush it – but while they are sold as ‘flushable’, wipes really shouldn’t be going down the toilet at all.
Wipes - whether they be baby wipes, facial wipes, cleaning wipes or the increasingly popular personal wipes - have the potential to create huge problems in our sewer systems. Wipes, often marketed as a cleaner alternative to toilet paper, don’t break down once they are swept down the toilet bowl.
The ’flushable’ label simply means they will go down your toilet when flushed. What you need to be concerned about is what happens next!
Unlike toilet paper, wipes do not disintegrate in water. They stay pretty much intact as they travel through the sewer pipes and can get caught on roots or other debris. This increases the likelihood of a blockage in the sewer pipes which can cause costly damage to pumps or lead to sewer overflows – which have the potential to impact on the environment.
A growing problem across the western world, our crews have already dealt with several significant and costly blockages in our sewer systems as a result of the use of wipes.
The more wipes we use, the bigger the problem, as the wipes can collect in the system and create large blockages.
So, throw away any cleaning/disinfecting wipes, moist towelettes, personal hygiene products, baby wipes and any other type of wipe you may use in the garbage, never in your toilet. Clogged sewer lines are ugly and expensive to fix. Binning disposable wipes is such an easy way to protect our sewer system, our environment and prevent unnecessary trouble.
Think at the sink
Take a minute to think when you are at the sink....
Putting the wrong things down your kitchen sink can leave you with expensive plumbing bills to unblock pipes.
Fats, oils and grease can harden in pipes, sticking to the top like stalactites. Small items such as food scraps, tea leaves and coffee grinds can also build up over time, and stick to the grease and cause real headaches.
Using a sink strainer is a great way to avoid problems.
Report suspected sewer spills as soon as possible to 1300 133 455
Spills from the sewerage system occur for a number of reasons, including blocked and broken pipes, flooding, and power outages affecting pumps.
In many instances, especially when we know about the spill straight away, we are able to safely contain it.
However, in some cases raw sewage spills into stormwater drains and from there into natural waterways. If there is a risk that this has occurred, we test the waterway for bacteria levels (faecal coliforms).
If results show that bacteria levels are higher than those recommended as safe for swimming by the national guidelines, then warning signs are erected and the relevant authorities and local organisations are notified.
Water testing continues until results show the levels of bacteria have fallen to within the range recommended for safe swimming.
If you see a warning sign like the one pictured here it is advised that you avoid swimming until the signs are taken down.
Typically it will be one to four days, however this is highly weather dependent.
It is important to note that heavy rain can also wash other pollutants such as dog droppings, oil, fertilisers and litter into our waterways.
This impacts water quality and as a precaution, the NSW government recommends everyone avoid swimming in rivers and estuaries within three days due to the potential risk posed by microbial contamination of the waterways by such organisms as bacteria, viruses and protozoa.
You can help to prevent sewer spills
- Think at the sink: use a sink strainer to catch food scraps, and pour fats and oils in a container for the bin.
- Wipes stop pipes: the toilet is just for the 'three P's: 'pee, poo and toilet paper'. Anything else can cause a blockage and needs to be placed in the bin. Remember - even wipes labelled 'flushable' can clog pipes, and need to go in the bin.
- Plant smart around sewer lines: keep deep rooted plants away from sewer pipes. When choosing plants check with your local nursery for appropriate species. Hunter Water has a good list of plants to avoid, however this list should not be considered exhaustive.
- Make sure your home's stormwater (outdoor eaves and gutters) is not connected to the sewer. During storms there is simply too much water to fit in the pipes and it leads to spills
Looking after your toilet
Our toilets are something we don't often give much thought to - until something goes wrong! However, it is important that we all do our bit to look after the sewerage schemes in our area, as the more we do, the less treatment is required and this is a big win for our environment.
Here are some simple tips to help us all 'do the right thing' when looking after our toilet!
Not a garbage bin...
What you actually put down your toilet has a big effect on the efficiency of the system. Please do not place solid objects down the toilet. Avoid placing items such as cotton buds, toothbrushes, sanitary wear, nappies, food scraps etc. down the toilet. If you use toilet fresheners that clip over the bowl, replace the plastic holder regularly and check that it is firmly secured.
Your sewerage system relies on biological processes to treat wastewater. Unfortunately many medicines, particularly antibiotics, can kill this kind of bacteria. Medications can also damage marine life when the treated wastewater is released into the environment. Please dispose of unwanted tablets appropriately. Ask your pharmacist for advice.
Chemicals have a similar effect on our treatment systems. They not only affect the bacteria, but introduce unknown elements to our treatment processes. Please dispose of old chemicals on the council chemical clean-up day. Grease and oil is particularly difficult to deal with in the sewerage system. It clogs up plumbing and is difficult to remove at the treatment plant. Please dispose of grease and oil appropriately. Small quantities of cooking oil can be mopped up with a paper towel and placed in the garbage. Larger quantities of oil should be stored in a container and disposed of at a collection centre.
Start at the supermarket
You can also help to keep your community sewerage scheme healthy by choosing products that are low in phosphates. Phosphates are difficult and expensive to remove in the treatment process. The best way to avoid the problem is to select washing liquids or powders that carry the NP symbol. This means that they contain no phosphates.