We're waging war on ‘flushable’ wipes

18th October 2016

While you’re worrying about taking off your make up or cleaning the kitchen surfaces with a wet wipe, spare a thought for your sewers, which is where the vast majority of these wipes end up.  All sorts of wipes – face wipes, floor wipes, baby wipes – they’re everywhere these days, and most people don’t think before dropping them into the toilet – especially when they’re branded as ‘flushable’.  But they’re causing HUGE problems for your sewer network.

In the last year we've been called out to over 30,000 blockages in the region, of which three quarters were caused by people misusing the sewer system and flushing things like wipes.

James Jesic, operations manager, explains: “Wipes are THE biggest problem we’re dealing with at the moment, and what’s making the problem worse is that there are some wipes you can buy that are branded as ‘flushable’.  Now – they do indeed flush, in that they disappear out of your toilet, but the problem is that they don’t break up or dissolve like toilet paper, and so they easily get stuck in drains and sewers and cause blockages.  We don’t think this is ‘flushable’.”

This problem is costing us nearly £5 million per year to clear these wipes from our network, all of which is unnecessary spending and inevitably ends up as part of customers’ bills.

James added: “Every weekend, in every town, around three and a half tones of wipes and other items which shouldn’t be flushed are dragged out of our sewers.  That’s about the same weight as a Range Rover.  And across the region, it’s nearly 1,500 tonnes every month, and over 16,000 tonnes per year.

“When wipes block pipes, it can lead to sewers overflowing and flooding into homes and gardens, which is one of the most horrible things that can happen to you.  We don’t want our customers to suffer in this way, as it’s entirely preventable.  The drains that take waste water away from your home are only a few inches wide and are only meant to take water, toilet roll and human waste. Remember toilet roll is meant to break down when it gets wet so it washes easily through the system. That’s not the case with things like wipes which can get stuck in smaller drains. 

“And it’s not necessarily the people who put the wrong things down the toilet that are affected.  The blockage can happen further down the street, so what you do in your home can be
causing a problem for your neighbours. We’re spending millions of pounds every year sending teams into sewers with jetting equipment and sometimes even spades to dig out these blockages.

“So – our message to our customers is please don’t flush wipes down the toilet – even when they say ‘flushable’, from our point of view they’re really not.”If you do run into problems, either slow drains or a blocked sewer which is our responsibility, they can be reported here or by calling 0800 783 4444.