March 2020 may go down as one the biggest moments in the wastewater professions’ battle against “flushable” wipes.
A combination of the coronavirus pandemic, TP shortage, press release from the State Water Board and media coverage of sewer back-ups in Redding and Las Galinas caused the wipes clog pipes topic to go viral.
The result was a cascade of attention on those of us long suffering wastewater professionals and the scourage of wipes. Hundreds of local and national stories were written about the challenges wipes in the sewer system cause. One of CWEA’s website posts event went viral receiving over 400,000 visits in a matter of days, our largest digital reach ever.
Can we finally turn the tide and get rid of wipes for good?
“We’re on the verge of getting legislation passed this year that would require clear, consistent and prominent “DO NOT FLUSH” labeling on a wide range of single use wipes products,” said Jessica Gauger, CASA’s Director of Legislative Advocacy. “The fact that the problems agencies are experiencing with wipes are being exacerbated during a public health crisis has certainly added urgency to getting AB 1672 passed.”
Follow CASA’s legislative efforts on wipes and AB1672 by visiting their website at www.casaweb.org/wipes.
The California Wipes-Pandemic Timeline
- March 4th – California declares a state of emergency
- March 16th – San Francisco shelter-at-home order begins
- March 17th – State Water Board issues a press release
“Public Advised to NOT Flush Disinfecting Wipes, Paper Towels Down Toilet“
- March 19th – California shelter-at-home order begins and so does a run on toilet paper
(there’s an argument hoarding isn’t the only cause of the TP shortage)
- March 19 – CWEA publishes State Water Board wipes advisory which goes viral, receiving over 450,000 views
- March 30 – US EPA issues media advisory “Publish Should Not Flush Wipes”
CWEA Members in the Press
“People might be using paper towels and cloths,” Theodore Higgins, chief environmental compliance inspector for Los Angeles Sanitation & Environment, told BuzzFeed News. “It would not only cause disruption in your property, but in our [city] system.”
“We just wanted to remind folks to just flush toilet paper and toss the disinfectant wipes,” Tony Rubio, district manager for Sanitary District No. 5 of California’s Marin County, told BuzzFeed News. “If you have to use the other stuff, bag it up and throw it in the trash.” Over the weekend, his agency responded to two water sewage system overflows. Both were caused by wet wipes being flushed down the toilet.
“The problem with wipes is that they don’t break down like toilet paper,” said David Hix, deputy director of San Luis Obispo Wastewater told the Sun. “A sewage crisis is really the last thing we need to worry about right now.”
“It’s the concept of the three Ps — pee, poo and paper. Those are the only things that should be going into your toilet,” said Terry Crowley, Utilities Director for the City of Healdsburg.
“Nobody can find toilet paper,” Joshua Vandiver, Redding’s wastewater utility manager told Route 50. “With these alternatives—just because something goes down the toilet does not mean it’s flushable. We have to deal with it on the downstream end.”
“The pipe you block may be actually your own pipe, and in that case your toilet won’t flush, your shower won’t drain, your sink will back up,” Mike Prinz, general manager of the Los Gallinas Valley Sanitary District told ABC7 Bay Area. “We are obviously facing a really tough time right now, but it could actually be worse if you had a backup for your house as well.”
“We were basically faced with a deluge of wipes,” said general manager Sandeep Karkal from Novato Sanitary District in this ABC7 Bay Area story.
“There’s legislation that’s we’re looking at requiring manufacturers of wipes to use proper labeling. If there’s synthetic material in the wipe, like plastic or regenerated cellulose, you can’t label them ‘flushable’ anymore,” explained Jason Dow, Central Marin Sanitation Agency General Manager.
Additional California Wipes Articles
- Americans coping with coronavirus are clogging toilets with wipes and T-shirts” (NBC News)
- Shredded T-shirt Used as Toilet Paper Clogged California Sewer System (Redding Record Searchlight/USA Today)
- Toilet paper shortages caused by coronavirus blamed for spike in sewage spills (SF Chronicle)
- TP Shortage Exacerbates Plumbing Problems in Northern California (KCRA)
- Disinfecting wipes are being flushed down toilet, causing major problems (CNN)
- Without toilet paper in stock, landlords and wastewater officials worry about what’s getting flushed (Santa Maria Sun)
- Wipes, paper towels clogging sewer lines (Santa Rosa Press Democrat)
- Sewer systems sustaining damage due to garbage influx (Lake County News)
- Don’t flush your wipes, even ‘flushable’ ones can clog pipes, officials say (Victor Valley News)
- Coronavirus fallout: TP Alternatives Clogging Sewers (San Bernardino Sun)
- A lesson on flushables: Wipes, paper towels causing sewer backups (Lake Tahoe Mountain Democrat)
- Clogging the System, Please Avoid Flushing Wipes (Beale Air Force Base News)