City of San Marcos wastewater collection system employees have a message for San Marcos residents about flushing wipes down the toilet: please don’t.
With so many people cleaning and disinfecting more heavily due to the COVID-19 outbreak, system operators are seeing more wipes and paper towels in the system than normal.
Jon Clack, Assistant Director of Public Services, Water/Wastewater Utilities, said the collection system here in San Marcos recently experienced a small sewer overflow due to a problem created by wipes and paper towels.
“When all those wipes enter our sewer pipes, lift stations and eventually the plant, they can create significant clogs and backups,” he said. “The materials in most wipes don’t disintegrate in water the same way as toilet paper.”
Flushing items like these down the toilet can also create expensive plumbing problems for home and business owners as well as for the community. Compounding the problem is the tendency for clumps of wipes to attract other materials to them, creating what industry experts call fatbergs. Those fatbergs get stuck in pipes and sewer systems.
Clack said the issue is caused by all kinds of wipes – diaper, cleaning, make-up removal and personal care – and encourages residents to toss the wipes in the trash rather than flushing them.
“Toilets are not trashcans,” Clack said, “which is the slogan from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). This is really a global issue as plants around the country and the world are being inundated by wipes.”
The packaging on many brands of personal care and other wipes claim they are “flushable,” but Clack said the issue isn’t really the flushing. The problem occurs when thousands or hundreds of thousands of wipes don’t disintegrate and all get trapped together in the system.
Wastewater collection systems and treatment plants aren’t built or equipped to handle wipes, according to Clack.
“Clogs from wipes can overwhelm a wastewater system and lead to major blockages that can also lead to major damage, costly repairs, health and environmental issues,” he said.
The International Water Services Flushability Group (IWSFG) estimates that municipalities in the U.S. spend between $500 million to $1 billion annually wrestling with fatbergs and unclogging pipes, sewer pumps, and other underground equipment.
Clack’s advice is to keep cleaning and disinfecting, or using wipes in whatever manner you use them, then toss those wipes into the trash.
“By reducing the number of wipes in our sanitary sewer system,” Clack said, “we can avoid damage and costly repairs to the pipes and plant. Help us take care of the City and our environment.”
To see videos of how wipes and toilet paper react in water, visit https://www.iwsfg.org.