Can’t flush this: the hidden culprit that’s clogging pipes + could cost you a fortune

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Wipes clogging the works
Wipes clog the works at the pumping stations. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Raise your hand if you thought flushable wipes were, well, flushable? Remember back in the early days of the pandemic when everybody was freaking out about toilet paper? Flushable wipes became some people’s go-to, and according to David Denard, Environmental Services Manager for Jefferson County, these little wipes cause big problems. Keep reading for all the details.

Just because the label says flushable wipes doesn’t mean it’s so

If you’re like most people, you don’t really give a lot of thought to where things go after you flush, as long as things work the way they should. 

But the people at Jefferson County Environmental Services know those seemingly innocuous wipes can lead to giant headaches—for home and business owners, hospital administrators, pump stations and our beautiful waterways.

In fact, this is a problem around the country,  with a number of national lawsuits against the companies that make and market “flushable” wipes. 

How can such small “flushable” wipes cause so much trouble?

1. They clog pipes

pipes
Fixing clogged pipes is expensive. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

“The biggest problem is the wipes that are labeled so-called ‘flushable’ wipes are really not flushable. For homeowners, the wipes get hung up somewhere, and you keep flushing them. At some point, your pipes get stopped up, you’ve got sewage running out into your bathroom and your toilets are stopped up.” 

David Denard, Jefferson County Environmental Services Director

2. “Flushable” wipes lead to large plumbing bills

clogged pipes
You don’t have to panic about large plumbing bills to fix clogs if you keep “flushable” wipes out of the toilet. Photo via Unsplash

“Then you’ve got to call a plumber. That can run into hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on where the clog is and how much work they have to do. It’s messy at best and very expensive at worst.”

David Denard, Jefferson County Environmental Services Director

3. They get stuck in pumps

mountain of wipes
Can you imagine having to pull all of this out of a pump station? Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

“We’ve got 180 pump stations in the county. These wipes will end up clogging a pump station. Then you have to take a pump apart and pull wads and wads of the remains of those wipes out.” 

David Denard, Jefferson County Environmental Services Director

This is expensive and slows the whole operation down.

Sewer systems across the country are built to a certain standard. And, every time we have a torrential downpour, the potential for backup is real. 

Heavy rains mean overtime work for sewers, and when wipes are clogging up the works, it’s impossible for the water to drain in the ways it needs to. 

What happens then is that water backs up into our waterways, and nobody wants that—not swimmers, boaters or critters that live in the water. 

Did you know Jefferson County has a sewer overflow warning system? Sign up now for alerts

The 3 Ps: what you can do

toilet paper
You *can* flush this. Photo via Unsplash

Protecting your pipes, your bank account and the environment is really easy, according to Denard. Only flush “the 3 Ps”:

  • Pee
  • Poop
  • Paper

Wipes go in the trash can, and when you need to flush, stick to plain old toilet paper. The paper biodegrades when it’s in the water, which the wipes don’t do, so it doesn’t cause the same types of blockages.

Keep your pipes and our waterways clean—don’t flush wipes. For more information you can follow Jefferson County on their website, on Facebook or Instagram.

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Sharron Swain
Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference
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