Yep, you read that correctly… a 250-meter-long mass weighing 130 metric tons has blocked a Victorian-era sewer tunnel in the east side of London.
The mass is a concrete-hard amalgamation of flushed items, including condoms, diapers, and—most notably—wet wipes that have all been cemented together with oils and fats that were also washed down drains. It is expected to take 3 weeks to remove the entire mass from the sewer tunnel. And while this may be the largest fatberg reported to date, there are some close runners-up: In 2013, English authorities found a 10-metric-ton “bus-sized” fatberg in another English sewer that cost £400,000 to remove.
When asked for their input on the matter, the wipes industry quickly turned the spotlight away from themselves by claiming that the “flushable” items go through rigorous tests and are not the problem- they say the clogs are caused by other items that are being flushed down that were never intended to be flushed in the first place. However, the people directly dealing with the problem have quite a different outlook:
“It’s an exaggeration to say that it’s not the flushable wipes causing the problems,” – Cynthia A. Finley Director of regulatory affairs, National Association of Clean Water Agencies
The wet wipe industry continues to grow by leaps and bounds, all while problems at wastewater treatment plants are becoming near impossible to flush away.
Technical Service Manager, Bill Cyrus, of a northern Texas wastewater treatment plant comments on the problem first hand:
“The rag issue is going up, up, up, up, up. That industry has gone up exponentially in the last five to six years.”
Meanwhile – the wipes industry has been struggling along side lawmakers in deciding what flushable really means. Now that the issue is in the hands of the federal court, Kimberly-Clark is clapping back against labeling laws saying that it’s not flushable wipes that are causing the problem, it’s non-flushable wipes and trash causing the mayhem. According to the wet wipe giant, they have spent nearly two decades and millions of dollars on creating a flushable wipe made of wood pulp, instead of plastics, that break down and disperse after they’ve been flushed. Sadly, according to Bill Cyrus, while some of the wipes do in fact degrade, the majority of these wipes deemed “flushable” still aren’t good enough and they’re making matters worse.
Shitten Mittens might be a joke to some but those in wastewater treatment plants, Shittens can cause major concerns. The non-flushable gloves used for baby blowouts are flushed down our sewage systems creating giant fatbergs. Yes, poop is gross but giant fatbergs clogging our sewer systems is even worse! The only way to get rid of these giant fatbergs is to educate the public on how harmful non-biodegradable material is to our sewers.
Next time you flush a “non-flushable” wipe down the toilet think twice – its a toilet, not a trash can!
The wet wipes industry has been under fire in the past few years. The most recent lawsuit in D.C. that has landed on Judge James E. Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s desk is cautionary labeling of flushable and non-flushable wipes. Boasberg issued a preliminary injunction preventing a single manufacturer to be targeted by the labeling law and stated that it was violating the First Amendment.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson was surprised by the ruling and said “It’s no more of a First Amendment issue, I would think, than telling tobacco companies what they have to put on packages of cigarettes,” Mendelson said.
The multibillion-dollar wet wipes industry has been expanding in the recent decade. All the non-flushable wipes being flushed down the toilet are creating huge issues for the wastewater systems across the nation.
Many people use the wet wipes for convenience but fail to realize the consequences once the wipes have been flushed down the toilet. The combination of grease, wipes, hair and other items create “Fatbergs”, which are massive globs of congealed cooking fat with wipes, and they are taking over!
The federal court has recently been involved with whether to classify wipes as flushable or non-flushable and how to label them correctly. Hopefully, in the coming year, the federal courts will help to minimize the wipes problem.
With over 300,000 sewage blocks per year in the UK and counting, it is time to make a change on how we dispose of “non-disposable” products. Many are avoiding the warning signs and fail to realize that 93% of all sewage clogs are from “non-disposable” wipes. Baby wipes, surface wipes and feminine hygiene wipes are just a few categories that are creating these massive clogs. Not only is it causing a nasty mess but the sewage spills are impacting the environment. Do you want raw sewage in your community? Next time you flush wipes, remember, it’s a toilet, not a trash can!
While flushable wipes are a convenient and easy answer for users, they cause big problems for local utility workers and an even BIGGER problem for the sewage lines! It is time to start sticking to your 3 Ps people! Tens of thousands of dollars are spent in Clark County Water Reclamation District unclogging sewage lines from flushable wipes annually and the Clark County is tired of it! “The reclamation district has a campaign aimed at educating the public about not flushing wipes and other items like prescription pills called Pain in the Drain.” Read more about it here….
A fatberg in the Baltimore sewage system got a mention in a recent “Saturday Night Live” “Weekend Update” segment. “Maintenance workers in Baltimore say they have cleared an 140-ton ‘fatberg’ from the sewer system, which is made up of congealed fat and waste that will not break down,” “Weekend Update” host Colin Jost said. “So good news, Baltimore: The McRib is back.” The Baltimore fatberg has been growing and was recently contributed to a 1.2 million gallon sewage overflow. Work is in process to upgrade and to increase the capacity of the Baltimore sewer collection and treatment systems to prevent these types of overflows in the future.
The flushable wipes industry is going to court over a new D.C. law mandating wipes can be labeled “flushable” only if they break apart in a short period of time after being flushed in typical sewer conditions. Kimberly-Clark Corporation, which manufacturers Cottonelle, Scott Naturals and Pull-Ups flushable wipes alleges the law is unconstitutional because it tries to regulate businesses beyond the city. The law takes effect January 1, 2018 and comes in response to the more than $50,000 a year D.C. Water spends to clear clogs caused by wipes with additional expenses to repair equipment damages by the wipes. Learn more here…
The City of Perry, Iowa has dropped its class action lawsuit against flushable wipes producers.
Since the lawsuit filing in 2015, Perry has not experienced any clogs or increased maintenance costs attributable to flushable wipes. Perry also admitted that none of its personnel were able to identify any flushable wipes manufactured by select companies in the city’s plumbing or wastewater systems. Perry dropped the lawsuit without receiving any compensation for alleged damages. Dave Rousse, president of INDA, the Association of Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, states “years of testing and field collection studies have shown that flushable wipes are not causing municipal clogs or increased maintenance.”
Recent collection studies in New York City, Maine, and California corroborated the statement. Those studies showed more than 98% of the items examined were not labeled or designed to be flushed, including baby wipes, surface cleaning wipes, paper towels as well as additional trash items. INDA is committed to educating consumers about proper disposal of non-flushable wipes through improved labeling and educating customers of the consequences of flushing these products.
So, wipes remain a problem for sewer system – and the flushable wipes industry wants to clarify that it is the non-flushable wipes that cause those problems.
ALDI was scheduled to offer Green Action Flushable Bathroom Cleaning Wipes this week as a special buy. Its promotion sparked outraged feedback on ALDI Australia’s Facebook page where customers posted comments imploring others not to buy the wipes as they are not flushable. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) also expressed their concern to ALDI. The ACCC is already pursuing alleged misleading flushable claims in federal court against Pental and Kimberly-Clark Australia Pty Ltd. While ALDI is standing by the flushable label as the product has passed INDA/EDANA flushability and biodegradability tests, they are bowing to social pressure to not sell the product.
Yorkshire Water is calling out the towns with the highest number of blockages caused by wipes. The towns of Huddersfield, Wakefield, Sheffield, Barnsley and Morley are at the bottom of the list. Yorkshire Water is called out to more than 30,000 sewer blockages every year, costing £2.4 million. In an effort to reduce the number of sewer blockages, Yorkshire Water has launched a new campaign, Yorkshire Loves a Binner. The campaign will run across social media and includes targeted activity in areas where wipes are the biggest cause of regular sewage blockages. The Yorkshire Water Yorkshire Loves a binner! website reminds people to only flush the three Ps (pee, poo and paper), shares do’s and don’ts to prevent sewer blockages, and has video of actual blockages. Yorkshire is rooting for a lot of binners.
If you follow the posts on NoMoreWipes.com, you recognize the havoc “flushable” wipes are wreaking on sewage systems. In Iberia Parish Sewer System District No. 1, they estimate wipes result in the burn up of 10 to 12 pumps a month. Now the sewer district has raised rates to cover the maintenance of those pumps. Customers are unhappy but the board that oversees the district has elected to wait a year to check the figures before making any rate adjustments. Customers are urged to stop flushing wipes to reduce the pump maintenance.
Late last year Washington D.C. passed first in the nation legislation that wipes marketed as “flushable” would have to abide by new standards on how quickly they break apart post-flush. The wipes industry is now lobbying Congress to reverse the D.C. law. Congress has the ability to attach a “rider” to an appropriates bill which would override the D.C. law. U.R. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) opposes the law as it sets a flushability standard that no company could meet and would force products off the shelves. He says the law is a ban because companies are unlikely to produce special “nonflushable” packaging to be sold in D.C. alone.
In defense of the law, council members may try to shame Representatives into abandoning their effort by asking their constituents if they worry about what goes down the drain in Washington. Additionally, there are several wipes made by Japanese companies that meet the city’s definition of flushable.
As if you need more evidence of consumer’s love for wipes, here’s 11 uses for baby wipes that do not include wiping a baby’s bottom. As if you need evidence baby wipes should not be flushed down the toilet, the second use mentions “some brands of baby wipes…can be laundered and reused as dust cloths and cleaning rags”. If a baby wipe can withstand laundering, you can imagine the havoc it can cause in the sewage system where the expectation is material degrades during transit? What’s your favorite use for baby wipes?
Wastewater offices are urging people to throw away wipes after using them, not flush them down the toilet. Flushable wipes might be flushable, but are not biodegradable, and are clogging sewer systems in metro Detroit. Wipes caused problems with pumps in a long-term, temporary sewer bypass that caused a sinkhole resulting in three condemned houses and curbed water usage.
Don’t forget to WATCH the short video referenced in the article. The fun, two-minute public service announcement by Oakland County officials shows that although the toilet was a great invention, it wasn’t meant to flush everything.
Deerfield estimates it costs the town on average $20,000 to $30,000 per year to maintain their sewer system due to wipes. If it wasn’t for flushed wipes, the maintenance would be about $500. They have sent letters out and other public outreach to educate residents with the issue of flushing wipes yet the problem persists – stuff keeps coming in.
On March 29, 2017, a mixture of wipes, paper, grease and other products was blamed for 1,650 gallons of sewage spilling into a tributary of Beaver Ruin Creek in Lilburn, Georgia. That followed a spill of more than 4,000 gallons of sewage into a tributary of Jacks Creek in Snellville, Georgia on March 26, 2017.
Over 4,500 wet wipes were found on one 154 meter square patch of foreshore of the Thames during the latest Thames River Watch Big Count event. Shockingly 277 wet wipes were found in just one square meter which is the highest concentration of wet wipes ever recorded in Britain. At the biannual Big Count event, volunteers record and clean up the litter along key sites of the Thames River in order to build a picture of the river’s health over time. A previous survey had found 150 wet wipes in a single square meter of the Thames foreshore. The wet wipes are changing the shape of the river bed, binding with mud and twigs to form mounds on the inside of bends where the water moves more slowly.
What do you get when you mix old sewer infrastructure with new upgrades in personal hygiene products? A BIG mess.
Flushable moist wipes have been under fire at the state and local levels since 2014, with cities like Washington D.C. banning the products all together in an effort to combat the costly damages stemming from sewer blockages.
But why should we revert back to the past when we’ve made huge steps forward with personal hygiene by using disposable sanitation items? Wipes and other disposables provide freedom and dignity to today’s elders and parents of small children like never before. So how do we find the happy medium between keeping our wipes and saving our pipes? Blogger Elizabeth Samson says it’s all about educating the public to be responsible about knowing what is ok to flush.
Keeping our sanitation infrastructures clear and in good repair matters to everyone. But sending us back to the hygienic past is no solution. Wouldn’t doing more to teach consumers what not to flush be better than depriving us of a product that improves our lives and mitigates the problem?
The sky is blue, grass is green, and, someday, your pumps are going to clog. It’s just another fact of life — or is it?
By Kevin Bates, Global Marketing Director, JWC Environmental
Clogged pumps in wastewater systems is every operator’s worry, holding up operations and requiring a messy and disruptive maintenance call to clear the clog. All types of locations — from municipal collections and private lift stations to small ejector pumps and large pump station facilities — can be plagued by dreaded clogs.
This problem is not a new one, but with higher concentration of disposable wipes in today’s sewage it has reached a crisis level in many locations. Congested pumps, often choked with wipes and debris, were once the everyday reality for a nursing home in Michigan, a municipal pump station in California and a prison in Las Vegas. After incorporating a grinder into their systems, the operators for all three facilities can now tell you they’ve discovered the truth — clogged pumps do not have to be a fact of life.
Rochester, Minnesota’s Public Works Department breaks down the hazards of flushing wipes and other non-flushables into sewer systems. Watch as they go through the process of what must be done in order to remove the unwanted items and prevent backups.
“Every day Rochester residents are sending wastewater down the drain to the Water Reclamation Plant for treatment. Unfortunately it isn’t just toilet paper and human waste being flushed. Non-flushable items are causing damage and costly sewer back-ups for property owners.”
Comedian Adam Conover explains the madness behind the “flushable” wipes. As he takes a trip down the sewer, he comes across a “fatberg” and San Fransisco Utilities Commission worker, Tyrone Jue tells us what exactly that means and what it does for our sewer systems.
Wipes makers continue to block allegations…and pipes.
Raleigh, NC is no stranger to the “wipes clog”. On February 5th, the city was notified of a hefty blockage causing sewage to spill over into Crabtree Creek. The city states that while INDA may say that wipes marked safe to flush are ok for the sewer, they just can’t stand by it.
“Several years ago, the city tested various paper products, including facial tissues and wipes, to see how quickly they disintegrated in a beaker of swirling water. Toilet paper began to fall apart almost immediately, while the tissues and wipes – even those sold as flushable – remained almost completely intact.”