wastewater treatment facility 

You make hundreds of decisions each day. For instance, keep this or throw it away? Recycle bin or trash can? Flush or not to flush? What? Of course, you’re going to flush.

But, many times, without thinking it through, people flush items down the toilet that can cause problems for their home’s plumbing, their local wastewater systems or, in some cases, even their future drinking water. But hey, who wants to think about it, right?

The unfortunate answer is that toilets definitely should not be treated as trash cans. There are many items which should not be flushed because they can cause serious problems in your home and further down the line.

One of these “unflushables” are baby wipes. Baby wipes or prepackaged moist wipes, which some manufacturers previously called flushable are among the items that should not be discarded in commodes.

Municipal Sewer and Water Magazine has this note on the wipes: “Clogs in sewer lines caused by those not-so-flushable wipes are a huge headache for municipalities. Now one company – under an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission – has agreed to stop advertising moist toilet tissue as ‘flushable.’ Will regulating the marketing claims made by producers be enough to curtail the problem?”

According to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, wipes and other products that do not break down easily cause many problems for municipal sewer systems and cost cities a great deal of money that must then be passed down to consumers through their water and sewer bills. “Utilities are spending millions of dollars to respond to overflows, clean these products out of their pumps and other equipment, and to replace equipment that should have had more useful years of service.”

Donald Malovets, regional maintenance superintendent for the Brazos River Authority, said wipes should not be flushed because they are “not biodegradable. This can cause massive buildup and create clogs in manholes and lift stations that bring waste to the wastewater plant for treatment,” Malovets said. “They come together, clog the pumps and cannot pass through which causes inefficient pumping and vibration to the pumps that can lead to damage. This can lead to extensive labor and repair costs when staff have to go in and manually remove the clogs. Increased maintenance and pump equipment replacement costs could result in higher sewer rates for customers.”

Trash can also interfere with the water purification processes at local waste treatment plants. Wastewater treatment is a complex procedure that mixes natural processes with modern technology. Because of that, many have screening systems to filter sewage before treatment. However, soluble contaminates are not as easily removed.

Toilets or other drains should not be used to dispose of household hazardous waste, such as cleaners, auto fluids, and many types of oil. Sewage systems are designed to treat organic matter and can’t handle hazardous waste. These items can actually destroy the natural processes used to clean water at wastewater treatment plants, causing the plants to temporarily shut down while they restart the process.

Pills falling out of a bottle

While water treatment plants can remove some chemicals, at this time wastewater systems are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals. 

Pharmaceuticals enter the water cycle through a variety of sources.  Often when drugs are ingested by humans but are not completely absorbed into their system, excess amounts are passed through the body with urine.  Pharmaceuticals have also been known to enter the water cycle through incorrect disposal of byproducts produced during the pharmaceutical manufacturing process.

But what most people don’t realize is that water contamination made by improper disposal of old or unneeded drugs at homes or medical facilities is probably the easiest to change. 

The best way to reduce the amount of chemicals in our water is at their source.   Federal officials encourage people with unwanted or leftover drugs to avoid flushing or throwing them away. Instead everyone should take advantage of local drug take back. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015 is National Take Back Day. From 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., local law enforcement agencies will accept old, unwanted or expired prescription and over the counter medicine at hundreds of locations across the Brazos River basin and the state. To find a location near you, go here and type in your zip code for the locations nearest you.