Wipe Mistakes Away

Talking, sharing knowledge and perspective, is good for the future of water.

A conversation can go a long way. It could prevent a clog. It might make your systems stronger.

Sometimes I use this space to talk about industry issues. Sometimes I share personal stories. The sweet spot is where the two overlap. Such was the case in the November issue of MSW, where I talked about flushable wipes and shared a conversation with a friend who’s also the superintendent of my hometown’s water department.

During that conversation my friend commented that no flushable wipes are actually flushable. Feeling full of water/wastewater knowledge from my time with this magazine and countless conversations with people across the industry, I interjected to note that while most wipes aren’t flushable, some certainly are. In the course of retelling the story in these pages I also noted that I have a private septic system at my house so the flushability of wipes isn’t a huge concern.

And that’s where I was wrong. That column generated a response from an ecologist in New Hampshire whose husband is a town water and sewer commissioner and gets MSW delivered to their home. She brought to light some concerns I hadn’t even considered.

First, wipes can cause problems in septic tanks. They don’t break down any better in a tank than they do in a pipe. Second, and more important for this space, is the fact that tanks get pumped, and those contents still make their way to the local wastewater treatment plant. You’re all aware of the problems wipes can cause there.

And while not quite the same, the use of general cleaning wipes has grown since the arrival of COVID-19, with many people taking extra steps to sanitize surfaces as well as self. For the most part, those aren’t designed to be flushed, yet that’s exactly what’s happening and the problems are predictable and familiar.

Outreach here is critical. While some people simply don’t care and will flush anything that fits down the toilet, plenty of people have no idea wipes are a problem and would change behaviors if they had the knowledge. Education is key.

As I said back in November, this is something that needs to be addressed. Include notes and reminders with customer bills. Spread the word through social accounts and any other way you interact with customers.

Explain that wipes are different materials made for different purposes and don’t break down as fast as toilet paper. Or maybe even provide some guidance. There are wipes on the market that meet GD4 flushability standards, and even some that claim to break down faster than toilet paper. Regardless, make sure your customers know there are larger consequences to all those wipes that get flushed out into your wastewater systems.

Here’s hoping you start seeing fewer problems in your systems.

Enjoy this month’s issue. 


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