Should you flush “sewer safe” items?

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October 12, 2016

The negative effects of putting stuff down your drains

We all know that a lot of products say that are septic and sewer safe. But as a plumber, I can guarantee you that flushing a lot of these products creates a nightmare for a homeowner and costs them money. How much money you may wonder? In a given year, we plumbers can visit approximately 100 homes that have clogged lines specifically from flushing things labeled as “sewer safe”. At a cost of $89 to $150 to fix that accounts for $8900 to $15000 a year. Costs can go up if you have a basement with an ejection pump. Ejection pumps start at $750 and can go up to $1000 and beyond. These products destroy these plumbing ejection pumps. Not only is it expensive to fix, but expensive to clean up from afterward.

Given this knowledge, you would think that people would not flush random things, right? Wrong. People flush “sewer safe” products all the time. Not that a plumber will complain about making money, but we feel bad for the homeowners. Especially the ones that it is a guest or child that is flushing products down the toilet unwittingly. A plumber sees it all the time. So should you continue to do it?

The short answer to this: DON’T FLUSH ANYTHING EXCEPT HUMAN WASTE AND TOILET PAPER—OUR SEWER SYSTEMS WERE NOT BUILT FOR OTHER TYPES OF MATERIAL.

Long answer: Hygiene products are non-degradable and therefore will easily clog up your local sewer system. Literally, anything that is not toilet paper or human waste cannot be flushed. That goes for “flushable wipes” as well. Those wipes may be labeled as biodegradable or even “flushable”—but that doesn’t mean you can just toss it in the toilet. As well also consider the job of a tampon. They are literally made to be compressed and swell in liquid. So what do you think they are doing in your plumbing lines?

Tara Johnson, a spokesperson for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), says that commonly flushed products including wipes, tissues, paper towels, floss, hair, and yes, tampons, cannot be broken down or digested by microorganisms in the sewage system. They can, however, build up and cause a system failure in both an individual homeowner’s sewer lines as well as public wastewater facilities.

“Wastewater treatment plants receive these products in great volume,” said Johnson . “These products must be regularly removed or the treatment plant must be retrofitted with a more powerful grinder to break down these items so they will not clog the system. Millions of dollars [are] being spent nationally to deal with these products in wastewater treatment facilities.”

Earlier this month, New York Times’ Matt Flegenheimer wrote about how, in the last five years, the City of New York has spent more than $18 million just to deal with the immense amount of wet wipes clogging up the city’s wastewater treatment plants. While there aren’t any stats that speak specifically to the destruction wrought by these products, they are indeed contributing to significant clogging and system failures. You also have to consider what other people are putting down their drain erroneously. Grease, floss, hair etc. All these products commingle together in city sewer lines. These then hit a snag in the line and start the process of clogging up the entire system. I don’t want to sound like plumbers aren’t appreciative for the work because we are. But plumbers also feel bad for the homeowners that are now having to dish out hundreds to thousands of dollars to fix a problem that could have been easily prevented.

According to a 2010 report, local governments across the country spent $369.1 billion between 2000 and 2008 on public wastewater treatment (which involves the removal of, well, non-degradable items that are flushed down the toilet.) According to an EPA 2008 survey, the total wastewater infrastructure investment needs are almost $300 billion.

Everything costs money. Removing hygiene products from a wastewater treatment facility and transporting them to a landfill is expensive. Fixing machinery in a wastewater treatment facility that has been put out of commission due to a massive deluge of random items is also expensive. Throwing a used wipe in the trash instead of flushing it? Much cheaper. Only YOU can prevent clogged toilets. With that being said: Save yourself some cash, throw random items in the trash.

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