UK

Cleaning wipes 'blocking drains'

  • 26 May 2011
  • From the section UK
Forked prongs are used to remove cleaning wipes from sewage before they are taken to a landfill

Water companies in England and Wales say they're getting hundreds of call-outs a day to deal with wet wipes blocking up drains.

They say the public needs to be educated into throwing away things like baby and make-up remover wipes rather than trying to flush them away.

Thames Water got 2,000 calls last month alone to deal with blockages caused by wipes.

Rob Smith's job is chief flusher for Thames Water - in charge of clearing blocked sewers.

He tells Radio 4's You and yours programme: "Most of the debris coming out of the sewage system is wet wipes of some sort - from those for baby's bottoms through to those for removing cosmetics.

"My wife has just bought some for cleaning windows which is a bit of a worry. They won't be going down the toilet in my house but they will in someone's house."

The wet wipes, along with grease flushed down drains by restaurants and households, create the perfect combination for a blockage.

"If you asked someone to design something to block a sewer you couldn't come up with a better way of doing it," explains Rob.

"The fat comes along, congeals on the sewer, then the wet wipe comes along and you have a build up and before you know it people are flooded out and you have a pollution incident. Not pleasant for customers and not pleasant for our workers who have to deal with it."

Thousands of wipes end up every day in sewage works where they are plucked out by special forked prongs and taken to landfill.

"Wouldn't it be much easier if the wipes took a direct route there and people just put them in the bin?" says Rob

"If we were to tell people what percentage of water bills went on blockages and disposing of these wipes when they get to sewage treatment works that might highlight the problem. The landfill bill alone is millions of pounds."

Biodegradable aim

Sarah McMath, head of asset planning for Thames Water, says pipes blocked by wet wipes cost the company around £12m every year.

She has spoken to the manufacturers about tackling the problem.

"The issue is that we don't agree on what is the definition of flushable. We set up a series of tests to look at what really is flushable and only toilet paper passed that test. But the wet wipe industry is more lenient about what it describes as flushable."

She says the water companies are now talking to the manufacturers about a joint project to develop better products and labelling.

"The long term aim is to go for something biodegradable but the short term aim is to help customers understand the impact of these things and to bin it don't block it."

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