Blocked sewer pump

Around 800 tonnes of wipes, tampons and other sanitary items are removed from sewers every week in the Eastern region, according to new figures from Anglian Water.

For major cities and towns such as Northampton, Norwich, Peterborough and Southend, it equates to as much as 40 tonnes of bathroom waste being wrongly flushed per week – roughly the same weight as 10 adult elephants. That’s on top of the cooking fats that have to be cleared from sewers too.

A new survey of women in the UK found nearly half (41%) said they flushed sanitary items down the loo and didn’t know they shouldn’t. The same number of women said they didn’t know this was damaging the environment.

Wipes cause a similar problem. Today in the UK one in two adults purchases some kind of wipe. Cleansing wipes are the most common with over 10 million users. Add to these the multitude of other wipes and products on the market and it’s easy to see why they’ve become a sticky problem if flushed down the loo.

Now, Anglian Water has paired up with a female entrepreneur and her new invention to tell women the truths about tampons in a bid to cut sewer blockages, flooding and pollution.

Emma Staples from Anglian Water said: “The UK’s sewers and pumping stations weren’t built to cope with wet wipes, tampons or other sanitary items. When flushed they don’t disintegrate like toilet paper and they cause blockages.
That can mean nasty smells, or worse still a higher risk of flooding and pollution of your home and the environment.

“The reality is most women don’t know they shouldn’t flush tampons, and the same is true of wipes - and it’s no wonder. The packaging on these products is confusing and that’s why we are calling on manufacturers to make this clearer.

“We also wanted to raise awareness of the issue and during the survey, thankfully, 95 per cent of the women we spoke to said they cared about the environment and are willing to do their bit.”

More than 340 Mumsnetters were surveyed and given the chance to trial FabLittleBag, a hygienic, easy-to-use disposal bag that biodegrades.

The test results showed nearly three quarters (71%) of women said that the trial had made them realise flushing tampons and other sanitary items leads to sewer blockages and pollution, and 77% said they would bin tampons rather than flush in future.

The bags are the brainchild of female entrepreneur Martha Silcott: “Some people have great ideas in the bath or in the shower, but I had mine sitting on the toilet! It’s not surprising that around eight out of 10 women said they found disposing of used tampons embarrassing. I believe women deserve a hygienic, easy and discreet way to deal with disposal and I created Fab Little Bag to achieve this - and to help prevent environmental pollution from sewer flooding at the same time. I hate the cheap, transparent nappy sacks which add to the landfill problems, and I was adamant there must be a better way.

“I wanted to give women more options, less stress – and ultimately more confidence and make more women aware that there is an alternative to flushing that doesn’t have to be embarrassing and benefits the environment at the same time.”

Anglian Water attends more than 30,000 sewer blockages every year – the vast majority of which are avoidable and caused by wipes, sanitary items and fats and greases from cooking. It spends around £15million every year to remove blockages from the sewers – money which goes on customer bills and would be better spent elsewhere.

Sharon Jones, one of Anglian Water’s army of sewage operatives says:
“I know how messy and tricky tampons can be to dispose of hygienically, however I also see first-hand the damage caused by these items being flushed and the distress it causes people when sewage has backed up into their garden or home. It can all be avoided if everyone binned their tampons, sanitary waste, wipes and other bathroom waste”.

As well as launching the awareness campaign, Anglian Water is giving away 50 free trial packs of the bags to customers via a competition on its Facebook page.

Carrie Longton, Mumsnet co-founder, says: "Sharing knowledge is one of the things that Mumsnet users do brilliantly, so it's great to be working with FabLittleBag and Anglian Water to spread the word about the negative impact of flushing tampons and help women do something good for the environment."