The ongoing flushable wipe debacle

The ongoing flushable wipe debacle

Tree roots are not the only thing that gets caught up in the pipes giving drain cleaners no end of grief – flushable wipes are still a major problem.

Essentially a consumer-facing problem to change how flushable wipes are disposed of, it is the plumber that bears the brunt of dealing with consumer behaviour and the mindset that wipes can be flushed down the toilet.

Wipes don’t break down like toilet paper and consequently remain whole and tangle on other obstructions and material in the pipes. Water Authorities such as Sydney Water removed more than one million kilograms of wipes in 2015 at a cost of $8 million. Nationally, the figure could be as much as $15 million to remove wet wipe blockages.

Not only does this pose a risk from a blockage point of view, but also for equipment damage, particularly the sewerage pump systems.

Pump system manufacturers are tirelessly coming up with new ways to deal with the increasing amount of blockages. DTB Pumps managing director David Burge says that while companies like his take care of the domestic side of blockages, consumer awareness still needs to be rectified.

“The problem is that consumers aren’t aware of the damage they’re causing. It’s so much more than just blocking up your own toilet; the wipe material jams up the equipment and as a result of this, they electrically burn out the motors. This then needs replacing which isn’t covered by any sort of warranty.

“To combat this, we’ve done two things. Firstly, there’s a system of protection that we’ve put on our pump systems so if one of these items do jam the pump, it shuts down so it doesn’t do any further damage to the equipment and then sets off an alarm to notify a maintenance worker.

“Secondly, we’ve been able to manufacture a pump that has a very strong shredding device that will shred these wipes into small particles. Once they’re shredded down to a small size, they go through the draining system with a lot more ease.”

State water bodies across the country – including Yarra Valley Water, South East Water and Sydney Water – are continuing their efforts to increase consumer awareness. Despite marketing campaigns having some success, Yarra Valley Water has put in a number of measures to manage the growing volume of non-degradeable material in its sewerage network.

Some of these harm minimisation methods include changing pumps at sites that see more of the build up than others. In this situation, ‘chopper’ pumps and pumps with impellers are used as they are less susceptible to blockages.  To accompany this change, macerators are installed at inlets to sites as well as an increasing amount of wet clean outs at sites that experience frequent build-ups.

“Awareness is, and always will be, the answer. Making people aware and igniting a sense of care into the consumer will heed better results,” says Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) manager of utility excellence Greg Ryan.

“People will start to care when they’re without a toilet for a while and have to ask their neighbour to use the toilet. Unfortunately, we want to prevent people from getting to that stage but sometimes, until people lose something, they take it for granted.”

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