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Are flushable wipes really flushable?

The wipes market has exploded, with wipes now having many different usages. People use wet wipes for an array of tasks, including make-up removal, toddlers’ noses, floor cleaning, toilet cleaning and toilet training, promising to leave users “extra clean and fresh”.

Many of these wipes are now advertised as ‘flushable’ which means rather then using the bin, they can dispose of these wipes by flushing them down the toilet, just like toilet paper.

But are these wipes really flushable?

Australia’s water service providers estimate $15 million a year to clear blockages that are largely the result of wet wipes.

The quick and dirty facts

  • One in four people in Sydney are flushing wet wipes.
  • Sydney Water has removed more than 1000 tonnes of wet wipe materials from its wastewater system in the past two years. If laid end-to-end, that’s enough wet wipes to reach LA and back again.
  • Wet wipes increase the risk of pipe blockages and overflows to local creeks and rivers.
  • About 75% of all sewer blockages involve wet wipes.
    (Info provided by Sydney Water)

What flushable wipes are doing to the wastewater system

While the makers of flushable wipes claim these products are “designed to dissolve and disintegrate” and “break up … like toilet paper,” the people who work in the wastewater industry and plumbers across Sydney know that this is not the case.

Labelling something as flushable doesn’t necessarily mean that it breaks down. Wastewater workers remove severe blockages caused by wipes at least once every two weeks. The wipes cause many things to go wrong and lead to workers shovelling the wipes out manually to remove the blockage. This plays a huge impact on their day-to-day work.

Having to regularly remove such extreme blockages results in growing maintenance costs, leading to higher public water bills. In addition, if the blockages aren’t taken care of, they will end up in our oceans and creeks. Therefore, if you believe flushing wipes doesn’t directly impact you, it certainly does.

What flushable wipes are doing to backyards

When consumers flush their wipes, more often than not, the wipes don’t even make it off the property. The wipes get stuck and block the drains in your home. This results in the property owner being responsible for covering the costs of removing the blockage.

Plumbers have spoken about spending a significant amount of hours pulling wet wipes from customers’ pipes, and the customer seems genuinely confused as to why they were labeled as ‘flushable.’ These added hours cause the property owners’ to see a large increase in their personal plumbing costs.

Some Sydney Water customers have reportedly incurred personal plumbing costs as high as $16,000 thanks to wipes blocking and bursting pipes.

Are these wipes really ‘flushable’?

For a humble consumer without first-hand experience in the wastewater industry, it’s easy to be confused about how the word ‘flushable’ should be interpreted.

A group of 1679 Australians when asked, “if a pack of disposable wet wipes is labelled as ‘flushable’, would you expect the wipes not to cause any blocking or clogging of the toilet?” 73% of those surveyed answered yes. 67% said that these products would disintegrate “like toilet paper”.

Regardless of the labels on the packages, the water industry urges the public to keep all wipes out of the pipes. Their damage; the worst the industry has seen in years.

When put to the test

Professionals put these wipes to the test using an agitation device designed to provide a similar environment to the wastewater system. When these ‘flushable’ wipes were tested against toilet paper, toilet paper started to break up and disintegrate quickly, leaving nothing more than the milky water.

When testing these ‘flushable’ wipes, there was no sign of breakdown or loss of strength. Experts warn that if a product doesn’t disintegrate almost immediately, it will likely get blocked or caught when flushed.

So, what can be flushed down the toilet?

Overall, there is widespread confusion about what can and can’t be flushed down the toilet. As a general rule, if you are confused about whether or not to flush a product down the toilet, it’s better to stay on the safe side and dispose of it in other ways. It’s not worth the impact these items can have on our beaches, rivers, and sewage systems.

Get in touch with our expert team of plumbers at 02 9521 819 for tips and advice on reducing plumbing problems and additional costs.