Meet the Innocuous Household Product That is Clogging Sydney's Sewer Systems

11 July 2016
 Categories: , Blog

Sydney's sewage system is facing a serious problem: enormous clogs that cost millions to dig out of pumping stations, treatment plants and sewage pipes. Although "fatbergs" (huge mounds of congealed fat and other materials) have been plaguing urban sewage systems for many years, the frequency of these blockages is rapidly increasing due to the growing popularity of one innocent-looking product: the wet wipe.

What's the Problem With Wet Wipes?

Many brands of wet wipes are labelled flushable, which implies they can't possibly do any damage to sewage systems or household plumbing… right? Unfortunately, the label is misleading. In tests lasting six hours conducted by CHOICE, flushable wipes did not break down in water. This resistance to breaking down allows the wipes to hang around in pipes and sewers, mixing with human waste, cooking fat and anything else that makes it way into the sewer to form a disgusting and potentially very damaging blockage.

Attack of the Wipe Balls

Between 2014 and 2016, water workers removed more than 1,000 tonnes of "wipe balls", blockages that consist primarily of wet wipes soaked in human waste. These nauseating monsters turned up in 680 pumping stations and 29 water treatment plants, leading to millions of dollars in removal costs.

Why Are People Flushing Wipes?

According to The Daily Telegraph, the wet wipe problem arises from the growing number of people who use the wipes as an alternative to toilet paper. Consumers claim that the wipes offer a more luxurious toilet experience, but as the wipes do not break down in water like toilet paper is designed to do, these luxury-seekers could soon be facing some very unpleasant clogs in their household plumbing or local sewage systems.

What to Do About the Wet Wipe Problem

Water workers want to send one clear message to consumers: don't flush wet wipes down the toilet, even if the packaging says they are flushable. Instead, place used wipes in the bin. In a desperate attempt to protect their plumbing, some public buildings and apartment blocks have posted signs to remind people not to flush the wipes.

Consumers Also Face Costs

Not all flushed wipes make it as far as the municipal sewer. Some create blockages in household plumbing systems, leading to households facing bills of up to $16,000 when they have to call a plumber to remove the clog. If you don't have $16,000 to spare, the moral of this story is clear: keep wet wipes out of the toilet.