Spread the Message

A little outreach and education can turn the conversation in your favor.

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My toilet clogged recently. I won’t get too deep into the details, but it involved a little niece and nephew and a pile of flushable wipes.

I’ll admit, I flush the occasional wipe. But I try to be careful about what I buy and send down the drain. I live in the country and my house is on a private septic system so there’s no danger of creating problems further down the line, but it’s still not great.

My little niece and nephew, however, have never given any thought to this. And I think they probably share a lot in common with the majority of your customers. Flush it and forget it. Until it comes back up.

Coincidentally, wipes came up in a separate conversation earlier this summer when I was helping a friend re-shingle his roof. We were done for the day, sitting by a fire, and somehow the subject of flushable wipes came up. My friend, the superintendent of the local water department, commented that none of them are actually flushable. I interjected to note that while most aren’t, some are, and I mentioned previous conversations with Rob Villee, who was executive director of the Plainfield (New Jersey) Area Regional Sewerage Authority when I met him several years ago.

Unfortunately, after a full day on a roof and a few recovery beverages, I couldn’t come up with Rob’s name, or any real specifics, and I mostly sounded argumentative and stupid. I’m not in the field cleaning lines or deragging pumps, and I know editing this magazine doesn’t give me half the knowledge of someone who’s out in the field handling those tasks every day. Still, I have a pretty good understanding of the work you do, and I wanted to be in the conversation.

More noteworthy, however, was the fact that several of the people around the fire had no idea most flushable wipes aren’t flushable at all. After all, if it flushes down the toilet, what’s the problem? So the average wastewater customer’s thinking goes.

Villee is interesting in this context because he helped to address the problem on multiple levels. He took it upon himself to campaign against the use of flushable wipes that really aren’t flushable, working to educate both the public and the manufacturers — locally and nationally — and even developing a means of testing the flushability of various types of wipes.

That’s probably further than you need to go in your own communities, but it’s something you still have to address. Include notes and reminders with customer bills. Spread the word through social accounts.

Plenty of people have no idea wipes are a problem. And that’s a problem for you. They don’t understand that wipes clog lines and pumps, and that those clogs can lead to overflows. They don’t understand the extra hours spent inspecting, cleaning and flushing, but you see it daily. Outreach is important. Education is key.

People tend to want to be a part of whatever is happening, and if you can foster more conversations like the one I had around the fire that night, you might start seeing fewer wipes clogging your systems.

Enjoy this month’s issue. 

Comments on this column or about any article in this publication may be directed to editor Luke Laggis, 800-257-7222; editor@mswmag.com.


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