Why are you flushing that down the toilet?
It can be mind-boggling to think about what life must have been like before refrigeration, running water, disposable wipes and feminine hygiene products. Living without these essential items and comforts seems impossible, yet many of our ancestors grew up in such a world.
With these conveniences, however, come new responsibilities for consumers to educate themselves on how to best maintain and dispose of these products. One example of this is the hot-button issue of what can be safely flushed down the toilet.
Most of us know that not all bathroom and disposable sanitary products are designed to be flushed, yet a startling amount of non-flushable wipes and other products are flushed down toilets every day. Wipes designated as non-flushable are made with plastic fibers, float and unlike flushable wipes, do not break down in wastewater systems. Yet, disposing of non-flushable wipes and other products like baby wipes, paper products and dental floss remains commonplace. This has contributed to cities and municipalities dealing with clogged sewer systems, while some individuals face the frustrating problem of having a toilet back up in their home.
To prevent these problems and ensure consumers know how to use the products and services that make life easier, here are some general guidelines:
1. Know what to flush
Only toilet paper and wipes labeled as "flushable" should be flushed down the toilet. Unfortunately, many disposable products such as paper towels, non-flushable baby wipes, feminine hygiene products and surface cleaning wipes are regularly flushed down the toilet. This can lead to problems for wastewater treatment operations. In the most recent study, more than 98 percent of what was found at a wastewater treatment plant was non-flushable baby wipes, paper towels, tampons, pads, cleaning wipes and other "trash" not designed or intended to be flushed.
If you're not sure about whether you can flush an item, read its label. Only products labeled as "flushable" meet strict industry tests to demonstrate compatibility with wastewater infrastructure and are safe for flushing. And if you see the "Do Not Flush" symbol on a wipes package, then do not flush that item.
2. Education over legislation
Several states and cities have sought to pass laws effectively banning wipes labeled flushable without data or evidence to show they are causing harm. "Legislation proposals like those in New York City, Maine, Minnesota and New Jersey focus on the wrong product — truly flushable wipes — and won't solve the problem," according to the Responsible Flushing Alliance. "In fact, making flushable wipes harder to obtain would actually make the problem worse: Consumers will replace flush-friendly products with other wipes not engineered to be flushed." The real solution involves educating consumers about what products are and are not designed to be flushed.
3. Switch to flushable wipes
To avoid any problems that might arise from accidentally flushing non-flushable wipes down the toilet, many people, especially new parents or parents with young children, have decided to play it safe and switch to flushable wipes for toileting needs, a change that parents have realized works great with potty training as well.
4. Be part of a solution
Inaccurate media has consistently and wrongly portrayed flushable wipes as the cause of millions of dollars of costs due to clogged pumps and sewers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Years of studies and data have clearly established that flushable wipes do not clog wastewater pumps. Flushable wipes are designed to lose strength and disintegrate once in the wastewater systems. Flushable wipes and toilet paper are both made of fibers that are 100 percent cellulose-based, so they break down in the biological processes in wastewater treatment facilities.
"Consumers want a product to use in their bathroom routine, and wastewater officials want their systems to stay free of clogs," said Dave Rousse, president of INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. "Fortunately, there is a category of products designed to meet both needs: Flushable wipes. If people use them for toileting instead of baby wipes, the nation's sewers will stay 'clean.' So embrace the solution to the issue — embrace flushable wipes (and throw baby wipes in the trash)."