Notifications

'Flushable' wipes clogging sewers, says Halifax Water

Be wary of ads claiming products like baby wipes and personal hygiene wipes can be flushed, says Halifax Water and local plumbers.

Wipes may easily swirl down toilet, but end of up as disgusting clogs farther down the line

The Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group estimates those wipes cost municipal sewage treatment plants in Canada about $250 million per year. (iStock) (iStock)

Be wary of ads claiming products like baby wipes and personal hygiene wipes can be flushed. Halifax Water and local plumbers say they can't — but they can tell you exactly where they end up.

In the rush to sell more baby wipes, many companies will advertise their products can safely be flushed down the toilet.  

While those products and personal wipes may swirl down the toilet with ease, experts say they don't disintegrate, creating serious problems as they work their way through aging sewage systems on their way to treatment plants.

The crew that scrapes the solids away from the liquids at Halifax’s pumping stations can vouch for that.  

Lewis Stewart of Halifax Water said forget what it says on the package, neither wipes nor plush three-ply toilet paper flush.

"I don't do the test, somebody's done the test to say that it breaks down and I can't tell you which products do and which products don't," he said.

"I can tell you that a lot of these products don't because they end up here and they form these clumps that you're seeing now."

In England last year, a 15-tonne blob of wipes and cooking grease the size of a bus — nicknamed "Fatberg" by the British — was discovered in a London sewer pipe after residents complained their toilets wouldn't flush.

When it comes to what's really flushable, plumbers like Rollie Parsons with Rollie's Plumbing and Heating, might be the best to ask.

"Flushable? Yeah, no. Wipes? No, they're not flushable. They tell people that so they don't have bother to put it in the garbage. Just drop it in the toilet, flush it and it's out of sight — until I show up and then you'll see it again," he said.

To make matters worse, Parsons said low-flow toilets are good for the environment, but they do a poor job of getting rid of stuff you don't want to have to look at again.

The Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group also advises against flushing items such as feminine hygiene products, condoms, dental floss, cotton swabs, diapers, and bandages -- even if manufacturers claim the product is flushable.

MESUG estimates those wipes cost municipal sewage treatment plants in Canada about $250 million per year. Though that estimate could rise.

Personal wipes are a $6-billion industry in North America, one that's expected to grow six per cent annually over the next five years.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.