Waterways choking on wet wipes

BLOCKAGE: The one-tonne “fatberg” that choked a sewer system at Eleebana in February gained worldwide headlines.
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Stop putting wet wipes down the toilet.

ENVIRONMENT DAMAGE: A mangrove tree covered in flushed wet wipes near a Sydney waterway.

That is the desperate message Hunter Water Corporation are sending in a three-month advertising campaign aimed to raise awareness of the havoc being wreaked on the region’s sewer systems by the so-called“flushable” wipes.

Pictures of the removal of a one-tonne wet-wipe blockage fromEleebana in February this year went viral around the world and prompted Hunter Water to adopt apreventativeaction plan in households across the region.

Hunter Water Media and Stakeholders Manager Nick Kaiser said wet-wipe blockages, known as “fatbergs”, were responsible for “around 80 per cent of Hunter Water’s sewer system chokes” and the problem was “widespread”.

“Wet wipes don’t break down in the sewer system like toilet paper,” Mr Kaiser said.“Instead they mix with fats and oils, causing pipe blockages known as fatbergs.”

HEALTH THREAT: A suburban backyard that has overflowed with sewer as a result of a “fatberg” blockage in the system.

Mr Kaiser said the problem has stemmed from certain wet wipes being marketed as “flushable” and biodegradable.

“Companies are advertising these products as something you need for personal hygiene; people use them for wiping down surfaces in the bathroom and whatever else and they are being used for convenience,” Mr Kaiser said.

“Consumer advocate Choice has surveyed over 1500 Australians on what they thought ‘flushable’ meant, and most said they would expect it to be something that broke down like toilet paper.”

Mr Kaiser said people should “use your wet wipes to your heart’s content” but the clear message was todispose of them in the garbage bin rather than flush them down the toilet.

He estimated it wascosting Hunter Water $15 million per year to service the blockages, which could have a flow-on effect to water utilities for households throughout the region.

“That money has to be recouped from the customer in the end,” Mr Kaiser said.

“So, in a roundabout sort of way, flushing these does put up water prices because it adds to the operating expenses.”

There is also the environmental damage being caused when “fatbergs” make their way into water systems.

“What you have when you have a sewer system blockage like the large choke at Eleebanais that the flow of sewer has to go somewhere, and where it goes is up out of manholes, and whatever else,” he said.

“Invariably that finds it’s way into a water system one way or another, like a lake, creek or river, so they do cause very direct environmental damage.”

From this week, advertising material can be seenon the back of toilet doors inHuntershopping centres, pubs, clubs and cafes.

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