Wet wipes—yes, even the ones that say “flushable,” condoms, feminine products, paper towels (and all the other stuff) that you flush down your toilet enters our sewer system and mixes with the grease that you have poured down your sink. This mix of personal hygiene products and grease can create “fatbergs” in our sewers.
The word “fatberg” combines the words “fat” and “iceberg” to describe the masses of congealed grease and personal hygiene products that have been found lingering in sewers around the world.
They are HUGE, DISGUSTING, DESTRUCTIVE, and COSTLY!
So, about 8.6 million people live in New York City and about 65 million tourists come to visit each year. Just imagine what happens when we all flush things down the toilet and pour things down the drain that we shouldn’t…
Damage to Wastewater Treatment Plants
When wipes and other stuff aren’t busy making fatbergs in our sewers, they are wreaking havoc on our wastewater treatment plants! These materials don’t break down in the sewer system like toilet paper, so they arrive at our plants jamming mechanisms, clogging pumps, and breaking critical machinery.
More Flooding and Sewer Backups
Liquefied fat, oil, or grease that is poured down the sink can cling to the insides of pipes and sewers. Over time it can build up and block pipes completely. When wastewater can’t move freely through the sewer system due to these blockages, it can cause flooding in local neighborhoods and sewer backups in your home!
Sewer backups happen when raw sewage can’t flow through the sewer system and is forced back into your home. We have extensive and robust sewer inspection, analysis, and cleaning programs to care for sewers and our latest State of the Sewers report shows that sewer backups are decreasing. That said, of the 2,382 confirmed sewer backups that occurred in 2018, over 75% of them were caused by grease build up. Wipes—yes, even “flushable” ones—may clear your toilet but they can get caught in your internal plumbing. Recent class action lawsuits against the “flushable wipes” industry have shown that the wipes can get caked together in in plumbing and septic systems. In New York City, it can cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to repair a sewer line.
High Repair Costs
We spend approximately $18.8 MILLION a year to degrease the sewers, deal with damage caused by sewer backups, and repair our plant equipment that has been damaged by non-flushable items (like wet wipes) and transport those items to landfill. These costs may grow as people continue to pour grease down the sink and flush more items they shouldn’t. As these costs increase, it will also increase water and sewer rates. In other words, as our costs go up—so do yours!
Endangering the Environment
We manage the largest water and wastewater utility in the country. In addition to supplying clean drinking water to nearly 9 million New Yorkers, we maintain 7,500 miles of sewers that convey 1.3 BILLION gallons of wastewater to our 14 wastewater treatment plants every day. In order to protect the environment, wastewater undergoes an extensive treatment process. Once New York City’s wastewater is cleaned at our treatment plants, it is then discharged safely back into local waterways. The process is amazing! Clogged sewer pipes, sewer backups, and equipment failure at our wastewater treatment plants can impair this process and threaten our clean water goals.
Thank you for asking! You can help us spread the word!
NO! When a product is labeled “flushable” it generally means that it will clear your toilet bowl. It does not mean it will definitely clear your pipes or break down in the sewer system or at a wastewater treatment plant. Water and wastewater utilities around the world have found a significant increase of wipes in their sewer pipes and at their plants.
Truly flushable items are ones that: break into small pieces quickly, are not buoyant, and only contain materials which will readily degrade in a range of natural environments (like paper, not plastic).
If you want to know more, watch this clip from Adam Ruins Everything.