This week’s blog was written by Emily Bilcik, a new intern at the WCO on a mission to stop flush offenders.
News flash! Your toilet is not a dumping ground. Well… it’s not a trash can. Although it may be your “royal throne,” it does not possess the power to make your disposable products disappear for good. You and I know there is no magic behind that flush, so it’s about time we take a seat and pledge to ponder at our pots.
Think for a moment about all of the things you’ve flushed down the toilet today. Aside from the usual “business,” did you flush baby wipes? Makeup remover wipes? Paper towels? What about all of the things you’ve flushed in the past week or month? Cotton balls? Sanitary products? Floss? How about tissues, food, or medications? These common household items are flushed down toilets every day. But where does all of our junk go when we trigger the mysterious flush?
All toilets – along with sinks, showers, dishwashers, and washing machines – drain to the same pipelines, making a pit stop at your local wastewater reclamation facility to freshen up. This facility, also known as a sewage treatment plant, is designed to manage water, human waste, and toilet paper only. Once the facility “reclaims” our wastewater, it is delivered directly back into our rivers. However, the reclamation process is often interrupted by a number of household products that enter the sewage pipelines and treatment headworks.
When wastewater arrives at the water reclamation facility in its raw stage, it goes through filtration screens that capture large materials wrongfully flushed or drained down the pipes, such as plastic, food, and paper. Small, heavier particles, such as sand or clay, are removed through a grit filtering system. This machinery often gets clogged by excess waste, particularly by items that do not dissolve easily, like wipes, paper towels, and tissues. Want the latest scoop on “flushable” paper products? Check out this shocking video below.
Wipes and stronger paper products are marketed by companies as “flushable,” however they block the flow of water through the treatment plant and become an expensive nuisance for the city and you. Even if product packaging claims “flushability,” our sanitation facilities can’t treat them. Yes, “flushable” items can technically be flushed down the toilet, but so can just about anything – like a toddler’s shoe for instance. “Flushable” products – like wipes, tissues, paper towels, and tampons- are not good for plumbing and can result in a costly and nasty back-flow of sewage into your own home!
Do your water reclamation facility and yourself a favor. Send your trash and other “flushable” products straight to the landfill instead of through the sewage pipes first. Misconceptions about improperly labeled items are widespread and growing. It is up to you and me to get the word out about “flushable” products. Most people who flush or drain the wrong things down are uninformed about the problems they cause.
Even I was unaware of “flushing etiquette” until I became an intern at the Athens Clarke County Water Conservation Office. I was once a flush offender. I mindlessly tossed my tissues and paper towels down the pipes. However, I was unaware that my actions caused a commotion down the drain. Now I’ve been warned and I’ve decided to commit to the “Potty Pledge,” promising to flush only the four P’s. The only things that pass through my pot are:
These are the things our water reclamation facilities are built to handle and nothing more.
Improving our flushing practices is the most effective way to prevent costly problems associated with sewage backup and wastewater treatment inefficiency. Next time you flush, flush with confidence and knowledge. Share your understanding of “flushable” products with others to help keep our sanitary systems in check and the environment clean. Please don’t be a naughty flush offender anymore. Take the Potty Pledge today and become a sewer hero.