Blocked pump

Anglian Water is leading the charge to stop misleading claims appearing on product packaging as blockage clearing costs in the East of England reach £15 million a year.

The water company also estimates around 800 tonnes of wipes and sanitary items are being flushed every week in the East of England region.

The call for action from wipes manufacturers comes hot on the heels of the recent decision to ban the use of microbeads in cosmetics and cleaning products by 2017 due to their devastating impact on the environment.

The manufacturers of wipes used for host of purposes, such as cleaning and personal hygiene, claim they are “flushable” and print this clearly on product packaging. But the reality is wipes do not break down like conventional toilet paper after going down loo. As a result, flushing them is causing sewer blockages across the globe, causing misery to millions of people who’ve suffered flooding to homes and gardens and also damaging the environment.

A declaration has this week been signed in the UK and in nine other countries around the world outlining the water industry’s position on products labelled as flushable.

Countries including America and large parts of Europe agree that wipes – even those labelled as “flushable” - do not break down in the sewer as quickly as toilet paper. This means the products can get stuck leading to blockages and sewer flooding.

The declaration calls on the manufacturers to clearly label their products as non-flushable until an international standard (ISO) has been agreed with the water industry.

In the UK alone, water companies estimate it costs around £90million a year to unblock sewers clogged up by wipes and hygiene products. This does not include the human and environmental impact and cost.

Rachel Dyson, Anglian Water’s Keep It Clear programme manager, chaired the UK steering group to get international agreement on the issue with wipes. She said: “Wipes cause real problems in the sewer network and have a devastating impact on customers. Wipes are by far the worst culprit but cotton buds, tampons and fats also cause problems in the sewers. They result in around 80 per cent of the 30,000 blockages across the East of England each year. Most of these blockages are entirely preventable, but instead lead to devastating sewage spills, can harm the environment and cost more than £15million each year to clear. Ultimately this cost is added onto customers’ water bills and would be better spent elsewhere.

“Even wipes labelled ‘flushable’ or ‘biodegradable’ don’t break up fast enough to make it through the water recycling process. This, along with a build up of fats and greases wrongly put down the sink after cooking, is a rapidly growing problem. Only the 3 ‘p’s should be flushed – pee, poo and (toilet) paper.

“This international statement recommends that consumers are given clear advice by manufacturers on how to dispose of wipes responsibly. This advice should be “do not flush”. If we put them in the bin rather than flushing them down the loo we can all help avoid blocked pipes that lead to sewage spills which can harm our region’s beaches and waterways or damage your home.”

Sarah Mukherjee, Director of Environment at Water UK, said: “There are strong views from customers and water companies around the world that it is time for the manufacturers to take action to prevent sewer flooding.
“The financial and emotional cost of a sewer flood in your home is awful and surely it is worth taking every step possible to prevent this happening.”

Anglian Water has also recently partnered with City2Sea and the Marine Conservation Society on campaigns such as ‘Switch to Stick’ and ‘Fab Little Bag’ to raise awareness that cotton buds and sanitary products should be binned not flushed too.