Fact Vs. Myth
Here are some common myths and facts about wipes, sewer clogs, in our city pipes and water waste treatment facilities, and other sewage news. Put on your lab coat to see if you know the science behind the facts or how to debunk the myths below.
Fatbergs aren’t a big deal, especially not for my town.
Facts: It’s estimated that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year to clean up fatbergs from our nation’s 800,000 miles of sewer pipes. Since the pandemic started in 2020, there has been a 50% increase in sewer blockages. 50% of sewer line blockages are caused by tree roots, trash, and other debris.
Luckily, not very much (less than 1,000 gallons) raw sewage is dumped into American waterways each year.
Facts: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 850 billion gallons of raw sewage is dumped into waterways across America every year. This is about the same amount of water the Mississippi River carries into the Gulf of Mexico annually.
The name fatberg is a combination of fat + iceberg.
A fatberg is the combination of fats, oils and grease (FOG) and items not meant for the toilet or drain. These giant cement-like masses form in sewer pipes when cooking grease congeals and combines with products that get stuck in the grease making them grow very large (like a long iceberg) as more items clog and accumulate. That is why it is important to know what not to flush down the toilet or pour down any drain.
Anything that can make it through the toilet is okay to flush because it fits.
Facts: Just because something can fit down the toilet does not mean it should be flushed. Flushable items are made to disperse in water so that they do not contribute to sewer clogs. It’s also important to remember to not pour any FOG (Fats, Oil, Grease) down any drains. When that grease combines with trash and other non-flushable items, it can congeal and create cement-like clogs that cost millions of dollars for municipalities to clean up.
The biggest culprit of sewer clogs are flushable wipes.
Facts: Flushable Wipes account for less than two percent of debris identified in forensic studies of clogs and accumulations in sewer systems. Non-flushable products, like baby wipes and paper hand towels, often make up the largest portion of these debris. According to data from the California State Water Resources Control Board Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO) Reduction Program, 73 percent of all sanitary sewer overflows in California are caused by tree roots, fats, oils and grease (“FOG”), as well as debris.
Want to test your #FlushSmart skills?
Want to learn more about what makes a wipe flushable or not?
The Responsible Flushing Alliance is leading the way with its #FlushSmart consumer education campaign. RFA is dedicated to keeping homes and communities healthy through proper flushing practices. This includes supporting clear and prominent labeling of all items that should not be flushed, including promotion of the “Do Not Flush” symbol on non-flushable wipes.
Here at the Responsible Flushing Alliance, we always encourage you to practice your best #FlushSmart habits. Sending the wrong products down the drain causes dangerous clogs in municipal sewer systems that could lead to burst pipes, contaminated water, and overflowing sewers. Instead of upgrading infrastructure and wastewater systems or investing precious resources in other community programs, municipalities around the country are unnecessarily spending millions of taxpayer dollars on fixing costly blockages that are completely preventable. Clogs. Yuck. Well…addressing these gross and dangerous issue boils down to consumer behaviors and really understanding what makes a flushable product flushable. Let’s dig in and discuss the science behind flushable products.
Flushability StandardsNot surprisingly, the science behind flushing stuff is complex and standards range within the industry depending on what product formulation and product use the materials are developed for. Wastewater professionals and product research and development teams acknowledge that there are a variety of ways to decide if a product is flushable or not. One way is to use a series of tests to see how the product performs under different conditions, such as submerged agitation and dissolvability. These tests can range from making sure a product can get past the toilet to the product’s compatibility with sewage and septic systems and measuring their biodegradability timeframe. There are even tests to see how quickly the product’s material integrity disintegrates in water. Another way to determine “flushability” is to look at how the product was made. Take a wet wipe for example. Sheets made of short, natural fibers are more likely to be flushable compared to ones made of long, plastic fibers. Short fibers pull apart easier, allowing the product to disintegrate once flushed. Meanwhile, long fibers are designed to bend and stretch for those times you need a durable wet wipe. When flushed, these long-fiber wipes, such as baby or cleaning wipes, don’t break down in water and can adhere to fats, oils and grease in sewers to form cement-like fatbergs. And if they make it to the wastewater treatment facility, they can wrap around pumps, causing extensive damage and costly repairs. While wet wipes serve their own purpose to keep our homes safe and healthy, they need to be disposed of in very different ways! You can check out our flyer for a quick breakdown on what makes a flushable vs non-flushable wipe!
The Gold StandardThere is one final way to know for sure if a product is flushable, and that comes down to the “Do Not Flush” symbol! This symbol can be found on all your favorite wipes products that do not belong down the drain. If you’re ever unsure of the best way to dispose of a product, just check the packaging. You can also check out the list below for a cheat-sheet on what cannot be flushed.
What Not to Flush:
- • Baby Wipes or Household Cleaning Wipes
- • Paper Towels, Facial Tissue, Makeup Wipes
- • Fats, Oils, and Grease
- • Food, Trash, Plastic Bags
- • Rags, Cloth, Disposable Gloves
- • Cotton Balls, Cotton Swabs, Dental Floss
- • Feminine Products
- • Hair/Hair Weaves
- • Medications/Syringes