The Can Says They Can Be Flushed, But An Engineer Says 'Don't'

May 19, 2020

A clogged pipe
Credit Beale AFB

The container cover says 'flushable' but doing so damages valuable equipment in municipal wastewater systems.

Cities and the state are noticing an increasing problem with the amount of flushable wipes clogging up motors and other systems used to treat waste.

DNR wastewater engineer Amy Garbe says the wipes always have been an issue, but with the COVID pandemic, the wipes are being used more frequently and they end up in the toilet. She says the guidelines that allow the companies to use the word 'flushable' on the container aren't stringent enough...

"Toilet paper breaks down almost instantly while these flushable wipes, they don't. They stay almost exactly the way that they look when you take them out of the package all the way to the treatment plant..."

Garbe says there' s many places the wipes can get clogged. She says they can clog pipes or botch equipment at the plant that is costly to fix and someone has to go in and clean it out, if it can be cleaned. She says imagine trying to put 40 wipes per day through a four-inch pipe. Garbe says it can back up in a basement or causes an overflow at a manhole.

Garbe says there's a rule of thumb regarding toilet flushing...

"The solution is to keep things that don't belong in the toilet out. Toilets are not a trash can. Really, the only three things that should be flushed down the toilet, we say the three 'P's... pee, poop and toilet paper..."

She says diapers, feminine products, baby wipes, Q-tips, dental floss are all things that should not be flushed down the toilet.