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Don’t Rush, Think About What You Flush!

Don’t Rush, Think About What You Flush!

In our homes, we have access to water in many different places: through the kitchen sink, through the sprinkler system, through the washing machine and even through our toilets.

However, what you may think of as “out of sight, out of mind” when flushed could do expensive harm to your home’s plumbing system when using the toilet for something other than its original purpose.

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With toilet tissue shortages in 2020, many people had to turn to “flushable” wipes. But what happens when you flush a wipe, a sanitary napkin or even dental floss when you flush it down the toilet? 

First, let’s look at what is supposed to happen when you use the bathroom and flush waste and toilet paper.

The process depends on how new your toilet is, but typically when you flush, water moves from the back of your toilet’s tank into the bowl and down into the pipes beneath your home. 

Where the wastewater goes depends on whether your plumbing is connected to a public sewage line or not. A septic system is normally used for wastewater treatment in areas where public sewage service is not available. In areas where public sewage treatment is available, homes are usually linked to the public system by pipelines that take waste to a wastewater treatment plant.

The water and its contents move under your property to the city’s sewage lines, through several pump stations, and ultimately to a sewage treatment facility. When it reaches the facility, the water and its contents are separated and cleaned. The water then moves back into the water system, and the solids are usually disposed of in a local landfill.

However, it’s when there are unexpected passengers during the process that major problems can occur. 

Several items, like paper towels, cotton rounds, feminine hygiene products and “flushable” wipes can clog not only your plumbing system but the city’s sewer pipes and the local wastewater treatment system as well. Plumbers and wastewater treatment plant employees routinely remove miscellaneous items from pipes when they cause a backup of sewage into homes and businesses.

Flushing these types of items down the toilet is not only expensive for homeowners, but it can also cost you more through increases in city utility fees when the city must pay to clear pipes and wastewater treatment plants of these items.

The best way to avoid these expensive clogs in the water is to remember to flush only the three P’s: pee, poo and (toilet) paper. And no, “flushable” wipes are not considered paper. 

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Wipes that are marketed as flushable material are one of the biggest concerns of wastewater treatment facilities. These wipes are not biodegradable, and they can cause massive buildup at wastewater treatment plants. When the wipes and other items clump up together, it clogs pumps and cannot pass through the system, which can cause breakdowns.

Staff members then have to pull the clumps out and fix the damage that was done. When this happens continuously, it often results in increases in public utility bills.  

The Brazos River Authority operates and maintains several wastewater treatment plants for the cities of Temple/Belton, Hutto, Sugar Land, and Clute/Richwood. Like other wastewater treatment plants around the country, each has experienced issues with these wipes, especially after more people started implementing the wipes into their bathroom routine during the toilet paper shortage. 

“A lot of people use the toilet for trash,” Greg Graf, a Plant Maintenance Crew Leader at the Sugar Land wastewater treatment plant, said in a BRA newsletter article in 2020. “They don’t know where it goes. For them, it’s out of sight, out of mind. But it causes problems.”

If you are in doubt about what is safe to flush down the toilet, keep it simple—when in doubt, leave it out.

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