Media Release: ‘Wet-wipe-bergs’ causing sewer havoc

23 July 2015
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City West Water is asking households in Melbourne’s west and inner city to think twice about what they put down their toilets, sinks and drains and keep wet wipes away from toilets.

The company spends more than $1 million a year clearing sewer blockages, which could be avoided if unsuitable items were kept out of the drains and sewers, and wet wipes are emerging as a growing cause of blockages.

City West Water Managing Director Anne Barker said sewer blockages are costly, smelly and inconvenient, but ultimately, the cost of clearing blockages is borne by all customers.

The reality is almost all sewer blockages are caused by items being flushed or washed down drains that shouldn’t be – nappies, cooking oil, fat, food scraps, personal products, and lately, an increasing number of wet wipes, Ms Barker said.

Despite manufacturer claims, wet wipes are not flushable, and they are starting to become a growing cause of blocked sewers, so keep them away from the toilet.

While all foreign objects cause problems for the sewer system, increasing numbers of wet wipes being flushed down toilets are forming clumps or ‘wet-wipe-bergs’ around the sewage pumps that move sewage around the metropolitan area for treatment. Unlike toilet paper which breaks down in water, the fibres in wet wipes often remain intact and are more likely to cause blockages.

Ms Barker said that when you combine wet wipes with other foreign waste in the sewer, it creates a snowball effect that leads to costly blockages.

Wet wipes combine with other contaminants in the system such as petrol, diesel, engine oil, paint and household waste, and they can pose a health risk to workers who maintain the sewer network.

Putting the wrong things down the toilet, sink or drain also means the waste costs a lot more to treat and dispose of, and it can cause environmental harm.

City West Water is working with the Water Service Association of Australia to partner with wipe manufacturers to address the problem.  Customers can learn more about the topic by visiting citywestwater.com.au/sewerblockages that includes a short video and helpful information about what can be done with items that need to be kept out of the sewer system.