Amid the never-ending quests for toilet paper, some residents are resorting to “flushable” wipes, torn rags, disinfecting wipes, makeup remover sheets, sponges, even a T-shirt to do their business then flush it – or attempt to flush it – down the toilet.

All of those items belong in the trash, not the toilet.

If you try flushing them, the state’s wastewater treatment plants could get overwhelmed and consumers could face costly in-home plumbing backups and blockages.

That’s what happened in Redding where some desperate residents resorted to using shredded T-shirts in the absence of toilet paper during the coronavirus crisis – but ended up wiping out a sewer line.

To date, no communities in the Coachella Valley, have had sewer problems and leaders are keeping their fingers crossed while rolling out educational messages on social media, websites and more.

Beverli Marshall, general manager of the Valley Sanitary District, told Uken Report she fully anticipates issues to arise given the stay-at-home orders and residents looking for alternatives to toilet paper.

“It could potentially be a health risk for staff exposed,” Marshall said. “It generally causes headaches for wastewater agencies and is very costly. The only things that should be flushed are pee, poop, and paper.”

From Palm Springs to Indio, in between and beyond, leaders are asking residents to pay extra attention to what items they are using and flushing and to not flush anything other than toilet paper, whether being used for personal hygiene purposes or for wiping and cleaning surfaces. Although many so-called “disposable” hand wipes are advertised as being safe for flushing, in reality, they can cause backups in the system and contribute to the buildup of foreign materials. In some cases, they can attach to buildups of grease in the system and create large blockages called “fatbergs.”

To get ahead of the issue, Indio weeks ago issued educational materials in both English and Spanish. Click here for English. Click here for Spanish.

Here are some items that should not be flushed down sewer lines:

  • Paper towels
  • Napkins
  • Wet wipes/baby wipes
  • Facial tissues

As a general reminder, here are “Dos and Don’ts” for avoiding backups in the local sewer lines:

  • DO NOT flush wipes, gloves, towels or other trash down the toilet, even if they’re labeled flushable.
  • DO NOT pour grease down kitchen sinks or toilets. Instead, put grease in a sealed non-recyclable container and throw it out with regular garbage.
  • DO NOT use the sink as a toilet or the toilet as a garbage disposal. DO reduce and reuse by using compostable or reusable makeup applicators, like cotton balls, and cleaning supplies, like paper towels or rags.
  • DO toss dirty baby, makeup and cleaning wipes, tampons, sanitary pads and condoms in the trash.
  • DO recycle finished toilet rolls, cardboard packaging from toothpaste and brushes, and plastic packaging from shampoos and shower gels.

While the State Water Board and other public agencies encourage Californians to follow the Centers for Disease Control recommendations to clean surfaces with disinfecting wipes to reduce the spread of COVID-19, it is important to discard those items in the trash, not the toilet.

Flushing wipes, paper towels and similar products down toilets will clog sewers and cause backups and overflows at wastewater treatment facilities, creating an additional public health risk in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Even wipes labeled “flushable” will clog pipes and interfere with sewage collection and treatment throughout the state.

Wastewater treatment facilities around the state already are reporting issues with their sewer management collection systems. These facilities are asking state residents to not discard wipes in the toilet, but instead to throw them in the trash to avoid backups and overflow.

A majority of urban centers are on centralized sewage collection systems depend on gravity and enough water flow to move along human waste and biodegradable toilet paper. The systems were not designed for individual nylon wipes and paper towels. The wipes and paper towels do not break down like toilet paper, and therefore clog systems very quickly.

Wipes are among the leading causes of sewer system backups, impacting sewer system and treatment plant pumps and treatment systems. Many spills go to our lakes, rivers, and oceans where they have broad ranging impacts on public-health and the environment.

Preventing sewer spills is important, especially during this COVID-19 emergency, for the protection of public health and the environment. Do not flush disinfectant wipes or paper towels down the toilet.

Image Sources

  • Flush toilet paper: City of Redding