Anglian Water has been running its Unblocktober national awareness campaign this month (October), encouraging people to be more mindful about what they send down drains in an attempt to prevent blockages from happening and putting additional pressure on the pipes.
Apparently, more than 40,000 blockages take place across the sewer network each year, with the campaign highlighting 16 items that should never be flushed or put down the sink, including fats, oils and grease, sanitary products, wet wipes and contact lenses.
Over the last few weeks, engineers from Anglian Water have been working to clear a 600m stretch of sewer pipe in Canvey Island, finding more than 4.5 tonnes of unflushables in the process.
The region covered by Anglian Water has more than 76,000km of sewers across its network, with the water supplier saying that 80 per cent of the blockages it has to deal with are actually avoidable because of the wrongful disposal of unflushable materials, costing the company £19 million each year.
Anglian operates a regular maintenance programme for its network, prioritised in line with the risk posed by potential blockages, with engineers making use of high powered jets to clear the pipes and ensure the water continues to flow.
Ben Hatfield-Wright, water recycling networks efficiency manager with the company, said: “Across the region, 12 of our 300 catchment areas account for around 80 per cent of our time, so it’s a problem area for us and this particular length of sewer in Canvey Island is one of them.”
“The Flush to Treatment approach is targeting key areas we class as high risk and can help us to give assurances that the network is working as it should and identify areas for future investment. We’re working closely with several different teams within the business to ensure that our approach is the most effective it can be.”
Anglian Water has succeeded in reducing blockages caused by unflushables by 24 per cent in the last 12 months, but this problem still costs the water industry more than £88 million a year.
It’s Keep It Clear campaign calls on customers to report pollution incidents as and when they see them, with the plan already seeing a 20 per cent drop in such cases in 2020.
The problem with sending unflushable items down the drain is that they then mix with other debris in the sewer and form what is known as a fatberg. This can then lead to sewer flooding in domestic properties, as well as pollution of the local environment, which can be distressing, devastating to wildlife and very expensive to sort out.
With climate change expecting to bring heavier rain with it, regular flooding of used water from blocked sewers will be seen more and more. Diluted sewage water can also discharge into rivers and other waterways, or be washed out to sea and pollute beaches.