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New proof that flushing wipes is a major cause of sewer blockages

18 December 2017

The biggest ever in-depth investigation of sewer blockages in the UK has revealed that wipes being flushed down toilets are causing serious problems in the sewerage system.

The information is detailed in a new report by Water UK, the trade body representing all of the main water and sewerage companies in the United Kingdom. It showed that wipes made up around 93% of the material causing the sewer blockages which the study investigated. These wipes – which included a high proportion of baby wipes - are not designed to be flushed.

Less than 1% of the domestic waste in the blockages was identified as made up of products which are designed to be flushed, such as toilet paper.

There are approximately 300,000 sewer blockages every year, costing the country £100 million – money which could be taken off bills or spent on improving services. Thousands of properties suffer sewer flooding caused by these blockages every year in the UK, creating misery for homeowners and businesses and leading to high clean-up bills and increased insurance costs. Sewer flooding also has a major impact on the environment. The new research shows that most of these type of incidents could be avoided by the wipes being disposed of properly rather than being flushed down toilets.

Retailers in the UK who have taken the lead with more visible Do Not Flush labelling are being praised for their efforts, but more needs to be done to help encourage individuals to stop using the toilet as a bin.

Water UK’s director of corporate affairs, Rae Stewart, said: “This study proves that flushing wipes down the toilet is a major cause of sewer blockages, and that means it’s a problem we can all do something about. Water companies spend billions of pounds every year making our water and sewerage services world class, but our sewerage system is just not designed to handle things like baby wipes which don’t break down in water. The good news is that by taking action we can stop the horror people face when their homes are flooded with raw sewage.

“There are things that water companies can do, such as improve education about what should and shouldn’t be flushed. There are things manufacturers can do, such as make labelling clearer on non-flushable products. And, of course, there are things individuals can do – which is bin the wipes rather than flush them.”

The investigation of 54 sewer blockages across the UK forms the main part of the report, titled the Wipes in Sewer Blockage Study. It was jointly funded and supported by Water UK, The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and EDANA. EDANA is the trade association for the nonwovens industry, which includes the wipes sector.

The report concluded that a renewed united and concerted approach is required to raise awareness among consumers of what can and cannot be flushed.

Since January 2017, EDANA has been promoting the use of a ‘Do Not Flush’ symbol on the front of packaging to help stop non-flushable baby wipes, cosmetic wipes and household wipes being flushed down Britain’s toilets. EDANA members and retailers are being encouraged to adopt the front-of-pack ‘Do Not Flush’ logo on non-flushable wipes by October 2018.

Marines Lagemaat, scientific and technical affairs director of EDANA, said: “We are glad we could contribute to the study and welcome the recommendations of the report. This initiative demonstrates the benefits of cooperation between the key stakeholders and we look forward to further collaboration with waste water organisations. It is clear that further outreach to the public is needed on this issue to inform them about the difference between flushable and non-flushable wipes and the importance of checking the label on proper disposal.”

Full report

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