Cities across Australia are experiencing clogged sewers and pipes that are costing millions to fix.
The culprit isn’t something or someone you might expect. In fact, each day many Australians are flushing items they believe are safe, but which are instead contributing to a growing problem that may also leave them with a costly plumbing repair bill.
Around two years ago Sydney Water discovered that there had been an increase in the number of blockages caused by wet wipes. The problem was also discovered in Canberra, where every three days workers are required to clear a blockage caused by a seemingly innocent item.
And just last December, Queensland’s Urban Utilities raised the same problem on ABC Radio. The spokesperson said “We pull around 120 tonnes of wet wipes from the sewage network each year and if you stretched out these wet wipes end to end they would stretch all the way to New Zealand.”
Not confined to Australia though, the wet wipes problem is also plaguing local councils in the UK, costing them an estimated $24m a year.
So how has something so seemingly harmless become such a big issue around the globe?
While the public is certainly responsible for flushing its fair share of foreign objects down the toilet, it seems that in this case they are being misled by the marketers of wet wipes products.
Unlike toilet paper or tissues which dissolve in water, the synthetic wet wipes remain intact as they travel through pipes and sewers – although most consumers wouldn’t know this by reading the product label.
One brand of wet-wipes carries the claim that they are made of “specially designed material which disintegrates in the sewage system”. Another brand of hygiene wipes marketing says they “will break up in the sewage process”. This certainly isn’t the experience for Canberra’s ACTEW Water or Sydney Water. “The synthetic body wipes are not breaking down”, ACTEW Water’s Angie Drake told the Canberra Times in December, before warning “even though some wipes are advertised as ‘flushable’, they are certainly not welcome in our network.”
It is the same for Sydney Water which is struggling to combat the growing problem. In the past two years it has cost millions of dollars to remove more than 1000 tonnes of wet wipes from the 24,000 kilometres of pipes and sewers that make up the Sydney Water network. Not only that, waterways are becoming increasingly polluted by wet wipes that have made it through the network. Blocked pipes are, of course, not just a problem confined to big utility companies and local governments. For home, business, and building owners it can be just as easy to have your pipes become blocked by wet wipes as it is for major sewage systems.
It may seem obvious for most people, but what is flushed down the toilet plays a huge part in the health of your pipes. And more importantly, having healthy and clear pipes can help avoid the very costly expense of calling a plumber to find and remove the blockage.
“The message is relatively simple for the community: only human waste and toilet paper should be flushed” said Ms Drake.
She may have been talking on behalf of ACTEW Water, but her message is important to everyone. Whether it is wet wipes, nappies, female hygiene products, or even dental floss – all can become stuck in pipes and cause a blockage.
Telltale signs of a blockage include water not escaping down drains correctly, and toilets becoming clogged or backed up.
Blockages are most efficiently detected by licensed plumbers. Through the use of modern diagnostic devices the CitiPlumbing team is able to quickly and accurately find the location of the blockage and remove it.
If you are in Brisbane or the Gold Coast and are experiencing a clogged or backed up toilet, or symptoms of blocked pipes, talk to a member of CitiPlumbing staff for advice.
If you are a huge fan of wet wipes there are a few things you could do, either toss them in the bin after use, or make your own from kitchen paper.
Featured Image Credits: hknbc.com