Wet wipes are a growing pain in the drain for thousands of blocked sewers

19 November 2015

Keep your wipes out of the pipes.

That’s the advice from the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) on World Toilet Day (November 19)1, with households across England and Wales being urged to join the battle to reduce the tens of thousands of blockages clogging up our drains and sewers.

‘Adult’ toys, a dismantled greenhouse, space hopper and hand grenade were just a few of the strange finds discovered in the bowels of our sewers, as water companies spent about £50 million clearing over 200,000 blockages in 2014/15 caused by inappropriate items put down the loo and sink.

But none of these items came close to matching the pain in the drain caused by the thousands of wet wipes flushed down the loo, or the greasy fats and oils poured down the sink.

Steve Grebby, CCWater’s sewerage expert, said: “Sewer flooding causes misery for thousands of households every year, which is why it’s in all our interests to keep our drains and sewers clear and flowing freely.

“One very simple way we can do that is by making sure we only flush pee, poo and paper down the loo.”

According to CCWater research a growing number of consumers (64% in 2014 compared to 43% in 2013) can identify what items should not be flushed down the loo3. But wet and so called ‘flushable’ wipes still accounted for up to a third of sewer blockages in some parts of England and Wales.

And ultimately it’s customers who end up footing the bill to clear up the mess through their water and sewerage bills.
So CCWater is asking households to remember its top tips to ‘keep it clear’:

ONLY FLUSH – the 3Ps - Pee, Poo and toilet Paper down your loo.
DON’T FLUSH – other items including wet, nappy or so-called ‘flushable’ wipes; nappies and pads; cotton buds; tissues; plastic bags and wrappers; sanitary towels; plasters and chewing gum. Bag them and bin them instead.
DON’T POUR – cooking fats, oils and greases down the sink or drain. Instead KEEP A FAT TRAP or container in the kitchen to collect waste fats, oils and grease. Many water companies will provide you with a free fat trap.
DO ALLOW - small amounts of fats, oils and grease to cool and scrape them into a container or newspaper before binning them.

The items creating a stink in our sewers – 2014/15

Sewerage company
(England and Wales) Sewer blockages caused by fats, oils, greases & other non-biodegradable items Strangest items pulled from the sewer/waste treatment plants
Anglian Water 10,700 False teeth, toy action figures, golf balls, mobile phones.
Dwr Cymru Welsh Water 24,000 Mini motorbike; mop heads, trousers, fence posts.
Northumbrian Water 3,000 Large hammer, animal skull.
Severn Trent Water 31,500 Motorbike
Southern Water 12,400 ‘Adult toys’, dead sheep, false teeth, severed fingers, teddy bears.
South West Water 8,500 A dismantled greenhouse, 12-inch kitchen knife, underwear, false teeth.
Thames Water 73,500 Dead badger, toy boat, glasses, false teeth.
United Utilities 10,800 Hand grenade, road cones, toy prams, dead sheep.
Wessex Water 13,000 Toy ‘Nemo’ fish.
Yorkshire Water 17,000 A space hopper, gold jewellery, false teeth.

1 World Toilet Day is a day of action to raise awareness about the 2.4 billion people globally who do not have access to good sanitation. The day is co-ordinated by UN-Water and supported by Governments and other agencies and charities, including WaterAid.
2 These figures are based on estimates provided by all ten water and sewerage companies in England and Wales.
3 Taken from CCWater’s Water Matters 2014 survey of consumers.
The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) – ‘The independent voice of water customers’.
Who are we?
• CCWater was established in 2005 to provide strong representation for water customers in England and Wales.
• We are a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Welsh Government.
• We are independent of water companies and regulators.

What have we achieved for water customers?
• Ensured that average household water & sewerage bills will fall by 5 per cent by 2020, before inflation is added, by putting customers at the heart of the 2014 Price Review.
• Helped over 300,000 customers with complaints or enquiries about their water and sewerage services and secured over £20 million in compensation and rebates since 2005.
• Overseen a 55 per cent reduction in customer complaints since their peak in 2007/08 through challenging water companies to get more things ‘right first time.’
• Achieved all of this and more at an annual cost of just 21p per water customer.

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