Icon Water has recently  launched its ‘wet wipe’ education campaign, asking the community to stop flushing wet wipes into the sewer network.

The launch of the campaign comes as Canberra’s sewer systems continue to be choked with large mounds of supposedly ‘flushable’ wet wipes.

A wet wipe blockage is caused every three days in the ACT costing Icon Water close to $70,000 each year.

David Hohnke of Icon Water said that the campaign aims to educate Canberrans on what they can and can’t flush and to let them know what their actions are doing to the sewerage system.

“As a publicly owned utility, Icon Water is keen to get out into the community to explain to Canberrans why we’re asking them not to flush wet wipes, and show them exactly what these products are doing to our waste water network, particularly across our 26 sewer pump stations around the city,” Mr Hohnke said.

“The issue isn’t just a local one, with cities around the world facing a similar problem on a larger scale – Sydney being no exception.”

“Our friends at Sydney Water have removed 500 tonnes of wet wipes from their wastewater systems over the last two years – costing the Sydney community millions of dollars annually,” Mr Hohnke said.

“Even though the issue isn’t quite as severe here in Canberra, the problem is getting worse, and it will continue to present a significant cost the Canberra community unless we change our flushing behaviours.”

“The issue we face is that instead of disintegrating after being flushed, wet wipes gain mass as they travel through our sewers, congealing with fats, grease and oil, causing nasty blockages in sewer pumps around the city,” Mr Hohnke said.

“And I think it’s also important to point out that it’s our people who have to do the work to unclog the pumps. The process of unblocking a sewer pump requires field workers to manually access the pumps which can weigh anything from 140 – 350 kgs in pits that range from 4 to 11 metres in depth and remove the wipes, exposing them to higher risk of injury.”

“When we say ‘wet wipe’, we are referring to any kind of baby wipe, toilet wipe, body wipe, personal hygiene wipe or cleaning wipe. They are often incorrectly marketed as ‘flushable’ or ‘biodegradable.”

“Regardless of their label, there’s no kind of wet wipe that is welcome in our network,” Mr Hohnke concluded.

Icon Water, along with the rest of the national wastewater sector, is working together with the wet wipe industry to find solutions moving forward. In the meantime, it’s important for the Canberra community to remember that only the three P’s can ever be flushed down the loo; that’s pee, poo and paper.

Utility Journalist

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