Flushable Wipes: Are They Really Disposable?

Bathroom wipes marketed as "flushable" are costing cities, and their sewer customers, across the country hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The ECUA is seeing evidence of this in our own system, as baby or personal wipes are increasingly clogging up the sewer system and are a leading contributor to sanitary sewer overflows (SSO) and the need for sewer repairs.  SSOs are a condition whereby untreated sewage is discharged into the environment prior to reaching a wastewater treatment or reclamation facility.
ECUA is urging the public to be aware of the dangers of flushing personal wipes, which can create a blockage in the sewer lines, eventually causing back-ups, or SSOs, at manholes, lift stations, and in household plumbing.  Lift station pumps and other mechanical equipment can also be damaged by the wipes that do not degrade sufficiently in the sewer main to avoid blockages and operational issues.  ECUA crews have devoted hundreds of man-hours to unclogging pipes, repairing broken sewer lines, and to replacing and upgrading machinery.

An Alarming Trend

The increasingly popular bathroom wipes, and/or pre-moistened towelettes, which are often advertised as flushable, may go down the toilet but aren't breaking down as they travel through the sewer system. Personal wipes are a $6-billion industry in North America, one that's expected to grow six percent annually over the next five years. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), which represents hundreds of wastewater agencies in the US, reports it has been hearing complaints about wipes from sewer system managers for the last four years.  Additionally, Consumer Reports notes that companies currently advertise their wipes with terms like "safe for sewers and septic," or promise that the product will "break up like toilet paper."

Commonly flushed items include: Baby wipes, dental floss, disposable diapers, nursing pads, disinfectant wipes, facial wipes, band-aids, swabs, condoms, cotton balls, flushable toilet cleaning sponges, tampon applicators and multi-ply toilet paper.

What’s a consumer to do? If you are using wipes, keep enjoying this convenience -- please just don't flush them down the toilet, even if the manufacturer says it's okay.  Instead, just make sure you dispose of them in the garbage instead of sending them through the ECUA sewage system.  Your home’s plumbing, and ECUA, will thank you!
About ECUA: Founded in 1981 by a Special Act of the Florida Legislature, the ECUA is a local governmental body, existing under the laws of the State of Florida. The Authority has expertise in multiple facets of utility service: municipal potable water, water reclamation and wastewater treatment, and solid waste collection and recycling. The Authority’s name was officially changed to the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, from the Escambia County Utilities Authority, in 2004.