What not to flush


We toss all kinds of stuff down the toilet that we shouldn’t, causing cost, inconvenience and worse.

For example, unused pharmaceuticals. Not all that long ago Americans were instructed to flush unused prescription drugs down the toilet, only later to be told that pharmaceutical residues can wind up in somebody else’s water. The instruction now: dispose of old drugs another way.

Then there’s the trash that winds up clogging waste water pipes – sanitary napkins, needles, condoms, kitchen grease, food waste, supposedly degradable diapers, and, increasingly in recent years, heavily marketed wet wipes.

There’s a word for the clogs that all this flushed garbage winds up causing: “fatberg” – a term now so commonly accepted that in 2015 it was added to the Oxford Dictionaries Online.

The clogging problem was initially reported to be a particular bother in England where it was partly attributed to aging sewer pipes, but the situation apparently knows no boundaries.

In 2018 a fatberg measuring 11 feet wide, 200 feet long and 6 feet tall blocked a city sewer pipe in Detroit.  In Baltimore, a mammoth blockage of fats, wipes and other waste caused a spill of more than a million gallons of raw sewage. New York City, which spends a reported $19 million each year removing fatbergs, runs a public awareness campaign that says that only the following four items are suitable for toilets: pee, poop, puke and toilet paper.

Sanitary wipes, a relatively new consumer product, are a big part of the problem, and are a big focus of an organization called the International Water Services Flushibility Group. Last April Forbes magazine reported that Canadian researchers had studied 101 varieties of single-use wipes and found that not a one passed a flushibility test.

 Pressure’s been brought to bear on wipes makers, but public education is also getting a heavy focus – and occasionally in entertaining ways.

 Notably, the Singing Sewermen of Thames Water (London) have been putting their voices to the problem since 2009.

 The wastewater minstrels from Britain ultimately inspired a single in Keene, New Hampshire, where the energetic style of Bruce Springsteen finds an unusual expression. Listen up. “Pink Cadillac” will never be quite the the same.

For the sake of our water, get the message: Don’t flush that!