Warning: Indelicacies below about what you put down the toilet.
After a couple of centuries of using scratchy paper to clean off the terminating end of the alimentary canal, humans have been blessed by entrepreneurial wizards who invented a soft, moist towelette to do the job, which, importantly, can be flushed down the toilet.
Now what was meant for protecting a baby’s backside (but wrapped up in a diaper and thrown away) was something mom and dad and grandmom and granddad could use, too.
If you had a touchy tushy (you know the kind, the ones with delicate dangly parts Preparation H caters to), moist, flushable wipes were a godsend.
You can now file that under “You knew it was too good to be true.”
The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (a nice way of saying sewer operators) has flushed those good tidings down the toilet. It released a notice last month to all sewer operators to discourage the flushing of flushable wipes because they weren’t disintegrating as advertised.
Instead they have been causing nasty sewer clogs that can only be described with a teenage epithet – Gross!
The most infamous clog occurred in London in July when a 15-ton mass of grease, flushable wipes, feminine maintenance products and other nasty bits caused a 10-day backup into a tony London suburb. While grease - the arch nemesis of sewer workers everywhere - was the main culprit, the wipes apparently played a key role in the clog by clumping up and forming lots of nooks and crannies for fat to congeal in.
The problem is occurring in Pima County, too, and the county’s communication staff put out a notice this week discouraging sewer users (which, presumably, is everyone) from flushing the wipes.
“Unfortunately, disposable wipes are rarely, if ever, biodegradable in the sanitary sewer system. They just aren’t in there long enough to break down,” the county said in the release.
“As a result, they can cause clogs and equipment failure in lift stations throughout the community where mechanical pumps help deliver sewage to the treatment plants.”
Pima County Wastewater spokeswoman Lorraine Simon said there have been at least three sewer overflows attributed to wipe clogs in the past year. Rags and towels (who flushes rags and towels?) caused three other clogs last year, too.
Some of the clogs were bad enough to cause sewage to spill into homes, business, streets and washes, Simon said. She was uncertain of the cost to remediate the clogs, but said no matter the cost, the price was paid by county taxpayers through their sewer fees.
While flushing the wipes might seem like a better thing to do than throwing them away (now that would make you take out the bathroom trash regularly), the county release added that if wipes make it all the way down the pipe to the sewer plant, “solids” of that kind are filtered out and hauled off to the landfill.
The Association of Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (you knew there had to be one, right?) has an entire section of its website dedicated to providing information about the flushability factor of its supposedly flushable wipes.
The gist is, it’s studying the problem of sewer clogs.
In the meantime, sales of wipes of all kinds, baby bottoms, adult bottoms, kitchen and bath cleaners, continues to explode. An article in the Nonwovens Industry magazine (you knew there had to be one, right?) said sales are growing between 5 and 10 percent annually worldwide.
Until the industry figures out a way for the wipes to dissolve in water but not in your hand (like that cruddy one-ply paper in airport bathrooms does) people who have long wanted a soft, moist, effective, clean solution for cleaning their delicate derrieres will have to go on wanting.