/ Home & Energy

What’s wrong with flushing ‘flushables’?

Blocked drain

All manner of things get flushed down our drains, things that can have quite a nasty impact. The problem is that many of us believe that some ‘flushables’ are indeed flushable, but that’s not necessarily the case…

The other week my house was in peril of being flooded because heavy rain caused a sewer pipe around the corner to burst.

It did so in the early morning and overflowed all day, creating a lake of filthy water deeper than you could wade through with wellies that cut our street off completely.

The fire service couldn’t do anything to pump the flood water away while the sewer was still filling up and a number of houses ended up with dirty water flooding their ground floors.

‘Flushable’ products

What made the situation particularly horrid was the fact that the water was full of things that people had flushed away – ‘flushable’ wipes, tampons, condoms, panty liners and other sanitary towel backings.

Later in the day, I realised that a white square we could see under the surface of the water was a street drain that looked completely blocked by all these nasty non-flushables.

I managed to clear an entire section of flooding in the road simply by prising the collection of non-flushables back out again. Unfortunately, the rest of the flood water was too deep to find the other drains.

The pumping trucks did finally turn up that night to clean the water away, but by then the entire area was covered in the remains of the non-flushables. Even the hedgerows opposite the pumping station were dripping with them.

Tackling non-flushables

The whole event was thoroughly revolting, so I was more than happy to hear last week that UK water companies are leading a battle against so-called flushable products.

They, along with their counterparts in nine other countries, have signed a declaration outlining the water industry’s position on ‘flushables’ and called upon manufacturers to clearly label them as non-flushable until an international flushability standard is agreed upon.

The UK companies have also complained to the Advertising Standards Agency and called for a ban on the word ‘flushable’ on wipes. Increasingly, these are used in place of toilet paper, as people mistakenly believe they disintegrate just as easily. The fact that manufacturers put words like: ‘Breaks down easily’, as Which? Conversation community member JamesPhennah pointed out, doesn’t help matters.

In truth, sewerage systems can’t process them, so they’re often washed into the sea, ending up on our beaches. According to the Marine Conservation Society, the number of them littering UK beaches rose by 50% in 2014. The UK water industry estimates that it costs around £90m a year to unblock sewers clogged up, in part, by non-flushables.

So, have you ever had an unfortunate incident with ‘flushable’ products? Do you think more should be done to prevent these non-flushables entering the sewer system?

Comments
Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

I think Victoria is very brave bringing this subject up ,especially as she is a female . Most females dont want to talk about it and this isnt helped by the socially enforced PC in Britain and the cries of “sexist ” if a male so much as tries to mention it. I brought this up a long time ago , and yes I was criticised for doing so. I have visited London,s sewers and seen what goes through them and that is not all . I know I will be criticised for this but it is the truth many early abortions by accident or other non intended means do so as well. I have also like Victoria watched many sewage pipe clean-outs and entirely agree . I must state I fully accept women “have a burden to bear ” and I certainly dont envy the amount of physical pain they bear in life and have many “issues ” over this but I am glad this is becoming more open in society , previously it was not talked about . I am 100 % behind Victoria on this issue a lot of the things put down sewers should be disposed of by other means but that is an issue in the modern practice of public waste removal in bins in relation to what bin qualifies for this waste ? Is it the -straight to the tip waste bin ? I know there will be many dissenting voices on this ,maybe some quite upset for various reasons but it is a subject this country must face head on and not put up a show of- “we dont want to talk about this ” or ” its not the thing I want to talk about ” or even- “disgraceful ” . While I maybe comment on PC on this issue I am right behind every female in this country they have a ” God given right ” to answers here.

Member

It’s so easy to do the right thing but as others have stated, some are just too lazy. In our bathroom there is a mini bin with a plastic liner. Wipes go in there & then the bag lifted , tied & goes into the green bin. Outside is another plastic bag lined bin used for any unusable waste food & out dogs poo. Again this is then lifted & tied & goes in the green bin. Kudos Duncan for voicing a male opinion & very valid points.

Member
bishbut says:
30 September 2016

Too many people are just to lazy or “cannot be bothered to dispose of things in the correct way .They use the easyist option which in most cases down the toilet or down the sink Litter dumpers and fly tippers are just the same heavyier penalities would be of a help

Profile photo of Ian
Member

When our children were both babies/toddlers we were told nappy liners were toilet flushable. How wrong that was manifested itself by blocking a drain in our house, causing me to have to lift and clear it. just before we both went out for the evening.

So I’m in complete agreement with regard to labelling. As Bishbut says I doubt we’ll ever change the behaviour of those who simply can’t be bothered but hopefully that number will be dwarfed by the sensible and thoughtful, so we can achieve a mess-free society – to an extent, anyway.

Profile photo of Frenske
Member

Perhaps every household should have a sewage filter before the waste joins the main sewage. If somebody is flushing wipes, nappies or sanitary towels it will only affect themselves.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

I think Frenske’s idea of a sewage filter in the domestic system is certainly worth exploring. It might not be the answer everywhere [blocks of flats, office buildings, etc] but it would be a neat way of stopping undegradable waste from entering the public sewers.

Victoria’s experience shows that there are still places where the foul water waste and the surface water drainage end up in the same sewers. Most older streets probably still have this arrangement.

It is alarming that a quantity of non-flushable waste products discharge into the sea – the actual estimated amount is not given, just that it is 50% more than in 2014. To some extent this factor depends on rain water peak volumes when the drainage system cannot cope and, because of the mixing of foul and surface water waste I mentioned above, the storm drain outfalls carry a quantity of solid waste into rivers and the sea where it washes back onto beaches. While not entirely harmless at that stage I suspect it is unsightly rather than hazardous. Nevertheless, these sewage disposal problems should have been eradicated by now.

Water companies do have to spend a lot of money passing raw sewage through screens at the treatment works to trap the material that has not broken down in transit. Given that in normal dry weather conditions the flow rate in the sewers is quite low with virtually no agitation, there is not much chance of the thicker products breaking down once they have entered the sewer until they reach the treatment works. The water companies then have the task and high cost of removing the screened waste and disposing of it safely. And people wonder why water bills are high.

I certainly agree that the information on packaging should tell people not to put the product down the toilet and advise on how to dispose of it properly [in a plastic bag and then in the general rubbish bin or chute]. Unfortunately an attitude of “out of sight out of mind” has grown up whereby putting something down the toilet is a way of ridding it from the premises. If only . . . it can lie in the pipe for days until there is enough flow to push it along a bit further. One of the best things I ever bought was a set of rods and many neighbours have been grateful for my efforts. It amazes me that people even think they can put nappies down the loo but they certainly do. People repeatedly flushing the toilet to clear waste products also leads to higher water and energy consumption.

Because there are so many wipes for this or that domestic problem, of which some are claimed to be flushable, it is assumed by many that any wipe can be disposed of in this way – including bathroom cleaning wipes, disposable dusting cloths, floor wipes, and so on. I notice that the packaging on Andrex Washlets [moist toilet tissues] says “Flushable and biodegradable. For best results flush 1-2 wipes at a time” – but who knows what goes on with the most private of functions? And what else are we expected to do with them? – most house bathrooms do not have a special receptacle.

I hope the “international flushability standard” arrives soon without excessive cogitation.

Profile photo of terfar
Member

I wish you had taken some photos. A few photos with captions would have a much greater impact than all those well-intended words.

Member

I was always taught if it didn’t come out of your backside it didn’t go down the loo, toilet paper excepted of course.

Profile photo of william
Member

Are those products that this convo is talking about clearly marked as to how to dispose of them? I kinda doubt. Just in the same way too much plastic ends up being recycled when it should go in the bin, although that’s down to manufacturers and supermarkets being closet eco- terrorists.

Profile photo of alfa
Member

Products that tend to get flushed need a loo with a big red cross on the front of the packaging.

I once asked the council what plastics could be recycled. They didn’t have a clue except for a few specific examples like milk bottles and margarine tubs, and they had no idea which plastic recycling symbols could go in the recycling bin.

Profile photo of Sophie Gilbert
Member

Totally with Frenske on the individual household having a sewage filter before the waste joins the main sewage. You’d make the mistake once…

To misquote De Gaulle, tackling laziness and stupidity is too vast a programme, so we need to tackle manufacturers (a recurring theme, isn’t it?). How do we make them stop making things that end up in the oceans’ garbage patches and elsewhere? If they lie when they claim their products are flushable when they’re not, how do we make them pay dearly for it?

Profile photo of PeterHenley
Member

WRc have being looking at the issue of flushable wipes for some time as they are known to cause many thousands of sewer blockages. Basic disintegration tests can demonstrate which “flushable” products do breakdown once in the sewer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hca-rQMjMm0

Profile photo of Sophie Gilbert
Member

I’ve always thought that Greece and Turkey have the right idea with their bins beside the toilets to chuck in the things that don’t come out of you. This convo vindicates the practice.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I have just read about Victoria’s unpleasant experience in the introduction. I know of an incident where a blockage resulted in sewage causing a fish kill despite the efforts of the Environment Agency to oxygenate the contaminated water.

I am intrigued by the ‘useful links’ at the end of the introduction – best reusable nappies and best disposable nappies.