Flushing Wet Wipes Is Causing Hundreds Of Thousands Of Sewer Blockages

Wet wipes: a marvel of the modern world. From busy parents to lazy students, they save us from domestic incidents many times a day.

But according to a new study from the trade body Water U.K., this is taking its toll. About 93 percent of material making up sewer blockages it investigated was formed from the time saving towelettes.

The report suggests that the British public may be badly informed about what is and isn't supposed to be flushed down the toilet. Wet wipes, it pointed out, are not.

"Less than 1 percent of the domestic waste in the blockages was identified as made up of products which are designed to be flushed, such as toilet paper," the study says.

The study covered 44 sewer blockages, 7 pump clogs and 3 WwTW inlet samples, observed over the period May 11 to July 31 2017.

"There are approximately 300,000 sewer blockages every year, costing the country £100 million," the report said, "money which could be taken off bills or spent on improving services."

Sewer London Thames
Land surveyor Neil Lloyd poses for a photograph in the Thames Water Fleet sewer beneath the streets of London March 13, 2013. Wet wipes are causing sewer blockages. Luke MacGregor/Reuters

"Thousands of properties suffer sewer flooding caused by these blockages every year in the U.K., creating misery for homeowners and businesses and leading to high clean-up bills and increased insurance costs."

Other evidence of inappropriate disposal habits included the discovery of a curtain, a dishcloth and clothing that had been improperly deposited into the sewage system.

The report's recommendations include better education for the public about which products are non-flushable by manufacturers. It calls for PR strategy and packaging design to reflect this, as well as the provision of "responsible disposal information" in advertising campaigns.

It adds that "Polypropylene or Polyethylene fibres should not be included in any product labelled as flushable."

Water U.K.'s Director of Corporate Affairs, Rae Stewart, said: "This study proves that flushing wipes down the toilet is a major cause of sewer blockages, and that means it's a problem we can all do something about.

"Water companies spend billions of pounds every year making our water and sewerage services world class, but our sewerage system is just not designed to handle things like baby wipes which don't break down in water.

"The good news is that by taking action we can stop the horror people face when their homes are flooded with raw sewage."