In my previous posting I emphasised that, because it is designed to have a low wet strength, bog wipe is the only paper product that you can safely flush down the loo. But inappropriate paper products such as facial tissues and paper towels are not the only everyday items that people foolishly flush away.
Since the porcelain throne is one of the most frequently-used appliances in the home, it is tempting to exploit it for the disposal of various unwanted items, including used personal hygiene products and kitchen waste. But imprudent flushing can cause blockages that may lead to an expensive bill from your plumber or may contribute to massive problems in the general sewerage system and even have disastrous environmental effects.
A prominent story in the news recently (September 2017) concerned a colossal “fatberg” obstructing a major sewer in east London. A fatberg is a congealed mass of discarded fats, oils and grease that, after being washed down sinks or flushed down loos, have become mixed up with solids derived from items unwisely flushed away, such as wet wipes, disposable nappies, sanitary products, toilet seat wipes and facial tissues. This newsworthy fatberg clogged a 250m-long stretch of a large Victorian sewer and was estimated to weigh 130 tons.
So, in addition to paper towels and facial tissues, what products that we are frequently tempted to flush away can cause problems? There are many, and some may surprise you:
Dental floss You might think that dental floss would flush away easily from your toilet or bathroom sink, but these tiny strands can tangle up any solid they encounter in the sewage system, helping to create large clogs that may result in a nasty bill from your plumber. Put dental floss in the rubbish bin.
Hairs Washing your hair can leave strands clogging the sink outlet. Most people probably scrape them out and flush them down the loo. But, as with dental floss, whichever way they get into the sewerage system they can bind other solids together and contribute to large tangles. Any hairs you shed should go into your general garbage rather than into the waste water system.
Sanitary wipes Manufacturers may state that their sanitary wipes are flushable, but this claim is dodgy because wipes do not disintegrate in water as quickly as toilet paper and they can therefore contribute to a clogged toilet or blocked sewer pipes before they have a chance to come apart.
Tampons Think twice before flushing tampons down the loo. While they too will eventually break down in water, there is no way of knowing how fast they will decompose, and they too could contribute to fatbergs.
Cotton wool products It may seem harmless to flush cotton wool balls and swabs down the loo, but they have been known to build up in bends of piping, ultimately creating, or contributing to, costly blockages.
Disposable nappies No! NO! NO!
Oils and fats Never dispose of cooking fats down the toilet or the kitchen sink. While they may be liquid when you flush them away, when they cool down they can solidify into a waxy gunge that is guaranteed to clog your drains.
Food products Leftover foods should go into a food waste bin or onto a compost heap (or as a last resort into a trash can). Flushing food items down the loo can lead to expensive plumbing repairs.
Chewing gum Chewing gum will stick to anything it meets in your pipes, and it will never dissolve in water. So when you’ve finished chewing your gum, toss it in the trash can (preferably wrapped it in paper).
Cigarette butts Ashtrays should be emptied into the rubbish bin, and fag-ends should never go into the loo. Cigarette filters and plastic-tipped butts can easily get stuck in the loo outflow. They also contaminate the water with carcinogens and other toxins.
Dead fish Deceased goldfish — and other dead pets — will not disintegrate in water and are also likely to clog your sewage system. Instead, give them a proper burial in your garden, put them into your food waste bin or feed them to your cat.
Cat litter On the subject of cats, be aware that kitty litter contains clay and sand that can seriously clog up the sewerage system. And your cat’s waste probably also contains toxins and parasites that can pass through sewage treatment plants and endanger wildlife in our rivers.
Bandages and plasters Used bandages and plasters are not only likely to clog up your drains but can also have a terrible impact on the environment. Put them in your dustbin.
Medicines If you have any unwanted medicines to dispose of, you may be tempted to flush them down the loo. But this is risky because drugs contaminate water supplies and have been shown to harm aquatic wildlife. Do not flush any unwanted medicines and do not dispose of them in your general rubbish either. Instead, take them to your local pharmacy, which will arrange for them to be incinerated.