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Unflushable wipes lead to rise in sewer main blockages

  • Unflushable wipes lead to rise in sewer main blockages

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SA Water
We are owned by the South Australian Government. Our people work to provide world class water services to more than 1.7 million South Australian customers.
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SA Water has recorded a 29 per cent increase from March to April in the number of blockages within its 9000 kilometres of sewer mains across South Australia, thanks to more items like wet wipes, sanitary pads and tampons being flushed down the toilet.

The majority of SA Water’s sewer mains are in metropolitan Adelaide, with the city experiencing 441 blockages during April, up 31 per cent on the previous month.

SA Water’s General Manager of Customers, Strategy and Innovation Anna Jackson said the utility spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year removing items like wet wipes from its pipes and wastewater treatment plants, but it’s not just SA Water infrastructure these ‘unflushables’ can cause problems for.

“If you flush anything other than the three Ps – pee, poo and (toilet) paper – down the toilet, or put food scraps and cooking oils down the kitchen sink, they can cause a blockage in your own internal plumbing,” Anna said.

“Eventually, what’s gone down will also come back up through the toilet or drain and into the street, your yard or even worse, your house, resulting in a messy and costly – but avoidable – inconvenience.

“Pouring cooking fats and oils down the drain can line your pipework and make it difficult for the good bacteria to process once it reaches our treatment plants. It can also lead to the infamous ‘fatberg’.

“Clumps of wet wipes and small fatbergs building up behind tree roots in sewer pipes remain the most common reason for blockages, but we also find and remove some other stranger items from the network, such as sprinkler heads, underwear and even golf balls.”

While ample supplies of toilet paper have again returned to supermarket shelves, SA Water crews saw a rise in toilet paper alternatives such as wet wipes, paper towel and tissues coming through the sewer network.

“We understand some people may have been unable to buy toilet paper and needed to use another household item to clean up, however, unlike toilet paper which is deliberately designed to break down in around 30 seconds, these other items don’t disintegrate in the sewer system,” Anna said.

“If you must resort to using a toilet paper alternative, we recommend having a small bin in the toilet or bathroom for easy disposal.

“We recognise that a wide scale shift in people’s flushing behaviours will take time, but we’re encouraged by the feedback we continue to receive from customers in response to our calls to only flush the three Ps. It really is a joint effort to keep our sewers healthy, and we say thanks to everyone for doing their part.”