Despite the growing popularity of personal wipes in bathrooms across Canada, sewage experts are warning that flushing them down the toilet — even those marketed as “flushable” — is causing millions of dollars of damage to infrastructure every year.
Recent advertising campaigns from manufacturers such as Cottonelle are pushing these moist towelettes as a more sanitary alternative to toilet paper. But people in the sewage treatment business argue that these wipes are clogging drains and damaging sewage systems.
Barry Orr, an official from the Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group (MESUG), an organization that represents Canada's wastewater systems, has been advocating for a federal standard to ensure more honest labelling of the wipes, which he insists are not safe to send down the toilet.
Orr conducted a lab test comparing flushable wipes to toilet paper and found that even after sitting in water for two months, the wipes did not break down nearly as well as toilet paper.
He says the wipes can get caught in traps, where they have to be fished out — often by hand.
“It’s not a sexy job I have,” he says, adding that the wipes can also damage equipment and lead to burst pipes.
Manufacturers, however, say their studies have shown that only 10 per cent of the material clogging sewers is identifiable as flushable wipes.
But last August, officials in London blamed “wrongly flushed festering food fat mixed with wet wipes” for spawning a 14-tonne mass lodged in a sewer drain and dubbed “fatberg.”
Orr and other wastewater experts insist the wipes are a major problem, and they hope that Canadians will stick to the tried-and-true methods when it comes to personal hygiene.
“There was nothing wrong with the old school method,” he says. “I think we’ve survived with toilet paper for a long time.”