‘Flushable’ wipes clogging up sewer pumps

Date: Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Flushable wipe? That might be an oxymoron.

Wipes that are marketed as flushable are increasingly clogging up city and regional sewers. While they might flush down your toilet, they don’t biodegrade like toilet paper does. 
MCES crews are spending an increasing amount of time clearing nonflushable materials off sewer screens at regional sewer lift stations.Metropolitan Council Environmental Services (MCES) now dedicates the time of a weekend crew to removing materials from sewer screens at lift stations around the region so that pumps and pipes don’t get completely clogged.
“If you can throw it in the trash, don’t throw it down the toilet,” advises Tim Keegan, Manager of Interceptor Services for MCES. “It’s difficult to quantify, but we are spending a significant amount of time and money removing wipes and other nonflushable materials from regional sewers.”
Besides wipes that may not dissolve in the sewer pipes, rags, grease, oils, sanitary products and, believe it or not, dental floss also are real problems. Dental floss does not dissolve and can easily wrap around other materials and create a larger mass of obstruction, Keegan said.
“We know people will accidentally drop things down the drain—jewelry, small toys, cell phones, wallets, and the like,” he said. “But we are trying to reduce the non-dissolvable materials that are put down the drain on purpose. If it can go in the trash, it should go in the trash.”
A bin at the Metro Wastewater Treatment Plant holds non-biodegradable materials caught by screens early in the treatment process.MCES operates 8 wastewater treatment plants, 600 miles of regional sanitary sewers, and 62 pumping stations that push wastewater through the sewer pipes to the treatment plants. While the screens that MCES has installed protect many of the pumps, sometimes the wipes and other materials get through the screens and clog the pumps, Keegan said.
MCES is a member of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and the Water Environment Federation. MCES supports the efforts of these and other organizations that are working together to:

  • Improve the labeling of flushable and non-flushable products

  • Increase public education efforts

  • Have better information available on product flushability

“NACWA looks forward to working with the wipes industry to help improve consumer awareness about products that should and should not be flushed,” said NACWA Executive Director Ken Kirk. “Toilets are not trash cans, and reducing the amount of inappropriately flushed products will save utilities millions of dollars each year.”

MCES is also working on a public education campaign on the issue, and will work with our customer cities to get the word out to their residents and businesses.


Posted In: Wastewater & Water

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