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Water companies and local councils are urging residents to only dispose of flushable items in toilets, as major wastewater pipe and pump blockages are becoming more frequent. 

Water Corporation, Western Australia’s principal supplier of water, wastewater and drainage services, reiterated to the community that ensuring they only flush the 3Ps – pee, poo and (toilet) paper – would greatly assist wastewater crews in their work.

Items such as wet wipes, paper towels and sanitary products should be disposed of in a bin, as this material does not break down in wastewater pipes and can cause blockages.

Water Corporation CEO, Pat Donovan, said crews had stepped up their planned maintenance to clear potential blockages before they could happen but the community needed to do its bit.

“Across Western Australia, our crews are on the ground ensuring our essential water and wastewater services continue to be provided to our 1.3 million customers,” Mr Donovan said.

“If a blockage occurs in Water Corporation’s wastewater network, then our crews have the unenviable job of clearing these blockages.”

Water Corporation manages 17,193km of wastewater mains, 1,178 wastewater pump stations and 112 wastewater treatment plants across Western Australia.

Since the start of 2020, its crews have cleared 1,965 blockages in the WA wastewater system. 

Over the past five years, the organisation has spent nearly $20.4 million clearing blockages from wastewater systems across the state. 

“I’m asking the community to do their bit to ensure our crews are only being called out to essential work, and not to clear blockages caused by incorrect things such as wet wipes, paper towels and newspaper being flushed down the toilet,” Mr Donovan said.

“Even items that are marketed as flushable cannot be flushed down the toilet. The only things that should be flushed are the 3Ps – pee, poo and (toilet) paper – everything else goes in the bin.

“Thank you to the Western Australian community in advance from our crews who are on the ground each day performing essential work to ensure you continue to receive safe and reliable water and wastewater services.”

Blockages can also occur in the internal plumbing of a home, and householders are then responsible for any plumbing repair costs.

Barwon Water, Victoria’s largest regional urban water corporation servicing the city of Geelong and surrounding districts, has also seen a rise in blockages, with a 50 per cent increase in sewer blockages at the house connection recorded between March and April 2020, compared with the same time the previous year.

Barwon Water Managing Director, Tracey Slatter, appealed to the community to heed the clear guidance Barwon Water had circulated to the public that only toilet paper was to be flushed down the toilet.

“Toilets and drains are not rubbish bins, and are not designed to handle anything that doesn’t break down in the sewerage system like toilet paper,” Ms Slatter said.

“When people flush things like wet wipes, tissues, paper towels, let alone other rubbish and scraps, it causes blockages that can lead to sewage spilling into streets and people’s properties.

“These blockages are expensive and time consuming to fix and at a time when everyone is very focused on hygiene and public health, it is critical that people follow the rules and flush only toilet paper.”

Ms Slatter said Barwon Water’s employees’ time and its customers’ money could be better spent elsewhere as everyone works hard to maintain the essential water and sewerage services in a time of crisis.

“The message is clear. If it isn’t toilet paper, it goes in the bin. Set one up next to your toilet if you need to.”

MidCoast Council, in New South Wales’ mid-north region has reported an estimated 50 per cent rise in sewer blockages due to an increase in the use of so-called flushable wipes in the absence of toilet paper on the shelves.

The Council’s Director of Infrastructure and Engineering Services, Rob Scott, said, “In our region, there’s been a substantial increase in the use of wipes instead of toilet paper, as people turn to alternative products when the shelves are bare.” 

The Council is urging people to stop stockpiling toilet paper – so everyone can go back to using toilet paper that’s safe to flush.

“It’s resulted in a big increase in blockages across our sewer system, with our crews having to hoist the pump out of the ground from depths of up to 10m, and then remove the ‘chokes’ manually. Apart from being a disgusting job, it’s expensive and time consuming.

“Despite these wipes being advertised as ‘flushable’, there are no wipes that are suitable for flushing down the toilet.

“A blockage can effectively shut down the movement of sewage through the system and is a serious problem.

“Normal maintenance includes our staff checking sewer pumps about once a fortnight – which normally only requires a hose-off of domestic fat residue. But recently, we’ve been deploying staff every second day to some pump locations to remove blockages due to people flushing wipes.”

Unlike toilet paper, wipes do not disintegrate in water, but remain mostly intact as they travel through the sewer pipes and can get caught on other debris. This increases the likelihood of a blockage in the sewer pipes which can cause costly damage to pumps or lead to sewer overflows – which have the potential to impact on the environment. 

The Council said the best advice is to throw away any cleaning/disinfecting wipes, moist towelettes, personal hygiene products, baby wipes, and any other type of wipe that may be used, in the garbage – never in a toilet.

However, by binning the products, you are contributing to landfill waste – and that also is not good for the environment – and contributes to the NSW Government’s Waste Levy that ratepayers pay on all landfill waste.

It would really be better if everyone on the MidCoast could avoid new so-called flushable wipe products.

“To do that, we need everyone to stop stockpiling toilet paper – there is no shortage in production – so let the shelves fill up again so everyone can use toilet paper,” added Mr Scott.

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