Have you been using your toilet as a trashcan? If so, we hope you will soon reconsider! Our sanitary sewer system was not designed to process the assorted debris created by our daily lives. If you have a toddler, like me, you definitely understand how bizarre objects end up flushed down the drain! But this is no excuse to routinely use your toilet as a convenient way to discard unwanted items. Like your home plumbing, our sanitary sewer system can overflow or breakdown when enough nondispersible products find their way into our pipes.
So, what’s a nondispersible product? Nondispersible products refer to any item that does not easily break down when mixed with water. Dispersible products, on the other hand, are specifically designed to quickly and easily breakdown when mixed with water. Toilet paper is the only true dispersible product on the market. Despite what product packaging tells you, often times items labeled as “flushable” can clog pipes, screens and pumps throughout the sanitary sewer system. The City of Spokane has a great video entitled ‘Will it Flush?,’ that demonstrates the difference between dispersible products and flushable products. Frequent nondispersible items found in wastewater include facial tissues, ‘flushable” wipes (such as baby wipes or all-purpose cleaning wipes), cotton swabs, feminine hygiene products, and cat litter. When thousands of users throughout the system flush nondispersibles, we risk costly repairs, service interruptions, and threats to our local economy and waterways.
When pipes clog in your home or neighborhood, wastewater can back up into your toilets, tubs, sinks and streets. Talk about a messy situation! And if the backup happens in your home’s plumbing, a costly call to the plumber could be in your future. Similarly, when nondispersible products damage the sanitary sewer system, the service provider must correct costly damages resulting in higher utility fees for users like you and me. But looking beyond the dollars and cents, clogged pipes threaten our local waterways and aquatic ecosystems. Untreated discharges of wastewater cause a sudden and dramatic increase in nitrogen and bacteria levels in waterways. High nitrogen levels produce algal blooms which remove oxygen from the water and degrade aquatic life. High bacteria levels present a human health risk that forces beach closures and advisories on local seafood harvest and consumption. The best way to prevent unwanted wastewater overflows is to put only dispersible products down the drain.
Do your part to prevent wastewater overflows by protecting our pipes. Flush only toilet paper and human waste down the toilet. Keep trash in its place. And for those who have young children: invest in a toilet lid lock. It could save you hundreds in plumbing bills and as a bonus you’re much less likely to lose your car keys to a science experiment gone wrong!