Don’t Flush that!

Why “flushable” wipes aren’t really flushable

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Flushable wipes are not actually flushable.

“But Brian,” you’re asking, “The packaging on these disposable wipes clearly states that this product is, in fact, flushable. What’s the big deal?”

Marketers of disposable wipes are selling convenience. It’s easy to assume that your septic system or local sewer line is a black hole that simply swallows everything you put into it. Just toss it in and it disappears, right? It’s out of sight, and out of mind.

But there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to ensure your waste products are properly disposed of. Most wipes are made with plastic fibers. And those fibers are what keep the wipes from disintegrating immediately as toilet paper does when it gets wet. In other words, the ingredient that conveniently prevents wipes from dissolving like toilet paper is exactly the problem.

“The misnomer of ‘flushable’ wipes, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic with the uptick of users, has created and worsened the problem of clogs, line breaks, overflows, and treatment plant issues in Texas, the United States, and worldwide,” says Susan Jablonski, Acting Deputy Director of TCEQ’s Enforcement Division. She adds that fats, oils, and other solids that go down the drain are attracted to these wipes, making them an even bigger issue once flushed.

Wipes can clog sewer systems, forcing crews to implement costly repairs like this one.
Wipes can clog sewer systems, forcing crews to implement costly repairs like this one.

Even though wipes will eventually break down, they don’t break down fast enough to leave your septic system or wastewater treatment facility unaffected. Huge grinders and filters at your local treatment facility will get clogged and grind to a halt. And later, even if/when a wipe does eventually break down, the polymer remains, which then chokes out aquatic life. A septic system has enzymes that break down waste, but those enzymes can’t break down the polymers in wipes.

Simply put, when you flush a wipe, you’re adding plastic to the environment. And we all know plastic takes a long time to degrade.

Oh, and one other thing: it’s not just wipes!

Workers at wastewater treatment facilities routinely find things that have no business being in the waste stream – paper towels, feminine hygiene products, bandages, facial cleansing pads, and even hair ties.

Follow the “Three Ps” principle: If it’s not poo, pee, or (toilet) paper, then dispose of it in the trash. This will keep the waste flowing as it should, which is good for everyone, and the natural environment.

It’ll also make your local wastewater treatment facility employees happy.

Photo credit: NYC Water