Most people probably don’t think too much about what goes down their toilet, and would probably prefer not to think about it. However, many people use their toilets as disposal units for things they weren’t intended to take; and this is causing major headaches for sewer systems across Canada.
The issue has become so critical that Metro Vancouver is rolling out a new campaign in the hopes of educating residents to stop dumping items down the toilet that clog the city’s sewer system.
“The Unflushables” campaign focuses on the worst offenders for clogged drains; and if anyone thinks this is just a big-city problem, think again. The cost of dealing with clogged sewers is estimated at $250 million a year across Canada, in communities large and small.
“It’s a problem that affects municipalities and regional districts across the country,” says Linda Parkinson, Metro Vancouver’s program manager for liquid waste source control. She cites wipes as the number one culprit when it comes to items flushed down the toilet that shouldn’t be.
“Staff started seeing more issues and more clogs, and spent more time cleaning up, in the last five years, which coincides with heavier marketing of these wipes as flushable.”
A video on “The Unflushables” website (http://bit.ly/2pr9NEi) shows a Metro Vancouver employee pulling a huge tangled mass of rubbish (mainly wipes) out of the sewer pipes, while another worker shows how the wipes tangle with each other in the system.
Certain brands of wipes carry a “flushable” label, but Parkinson says they really aren’t.
“The core issue is that there is no standard in Canada about what is flushable. Is it flushable because it clears your toilet? It might clear it; but it doesn’t break down in the system. That’s the issue.
“When it hits the pump station it can start to clog, and eventually these things congeal together with other things such as dental floss and hair. We’re having to deal with this on an increasing basis. One wipe that you flush down the toilet might not seem like a big deal, but all this stuff comes together eventually.”
“The Unflushables” website identifies the top seven items that should never be flushed down the toilet: wipes (baby wipes, personal hygiene wipes, cleaning wipes); paper towels; tampons and applicators; condoms; floss; hair; and medications. All except the last item should be deposited in the garbage can, not the toilet.
“Used or expired medications shouldn’t go in the toilet or the garbage,” says Parkinson. “Most pharmacies will take these back at no charge and dispose of them responsibly under a province-wide program.”
It is difficult for wastewater treatment systems to fully remove medications, and they can end up in our waterways.
She also notes that in small systems, such as those in our area communities, one person dumping medication, or other potentially hazardous/poisonous items, in the toilet can have a large impact, because of less dilution.
Parkinson says that toilets and modern sewer systems, which have been around for almost 200 years, have been estimated to have saved more lives than doctors have. “We take it for granted, but it’s something we should appreciate and think about.
“Don’t treat your toilet like a garbage can. They were never designed to deal with the things that have now come into play. Pee, poop, and toilet paper are the only things that should be in a toilet. Think when you flush.”