Early last year, a New Jersey state senator introduced a bill that would ban non-flushable wipes in favor of flushable toilet paper. According to a news story in the New Jersey Monitor,

“As utilities nationwide struggle with keeping disposable wipes from clogging sewer pipes, one New Jersey lawmaker wants to ban the non-flushable kind entirely. Sen. Joe Cryan, a Union County Democrat whose day job is running the Middlesex County Utilities Authority, calls the wipes the ‘bane of the industry.’

‘By the way, if you want one of the worst jobs in the world, be the guy who has to go stand in five feet of stuff and take those wipes off the screen that are meant to clean outflow. It happens way too often,’ Cryan said. His bill to ban the products, which he introduced… is ‘the industry’s worst nightmare,’ he said.”

In the world of plumbing, sewers, and drains, few things spark more debate and confusion than the humble toilet paper roll. With slogans such as “flushable wipes” and “safe for sewer systems” plastered across packaging, manufacturers leave consumers wondering: what can truly be flushed without causing problems down the line?

The truth is the term “flushable” often isn’t what it seems. We’re all familiar with the trusty flushable toilet paper we’ve used for years. But it is the toilet paper alternatives that have given rise to several problems over the last few decades.

Read on to understand the facts that debunk the “flushable” myth. In addition, you can be empowered to make informed choices for your sewer system as well as the environment.


The Trouble with “Flushable” Claims

Many products labeled “flushable” don’t readily break down like toilet paper, which is specifically designed to disintegrate quickly in water. These non-dissolving wipes, paper towels, and feminine hygiene products can wreak havoc on your plumbing system. Here just three of the main problems:

  1. Clogged Pipes: Unlike toilet paper, these materials often contain sturdier fibers that don’t break down easily. They can snag on pipes, forming blockages that require professional intervention and hefty plumbing bills.
  2. Sewer System Strain: When “flushable” wipes and similar products reach municipal sewer systems, they can contribute to blockages and equipment damage. This disrupts wastewater treatment and increases costs for everyone. As a recent article in Men’s Journal noted: “Municipalities and wastewater treatment facilities face higher costs associated with the removal of flushable wipes from the system. This can lead to increased maintenance expenses, potentially passed on to consumers.” (emphasis in the original)
  3. Environmental Impact:When non-biodegradable wipes end up in waterways, they contribute to plastic pollution, harming marine life and ecosystems.

The problems and costs associated with the increase in usage of so-called “flushable” products is rising. Here are some statistics on plumbing and sewer issues related to the rising use of non-flushable materials:

Here are some statistics on plumbing issues related to non-flushable materials:

  • Annual Cost: The National Association of Clean Water Agencies estimates that “flushable” wipes alone cost U.S. utilities up to $1 billion annually due to sewer system problems.
  • Prevalence of Blockages: According to the Water Environment Federation, wipes are the leading cause of blockages in sewer systems, accounting for 40-60% of all blockages.
  • Municipal Expenses: In New York City, “flushable” wipes were estimated to have caused $18 million in equipment problems at wastewater treatment plants over a five-year period.

In addition, there is a growing environmental impact from these items:

  • Marine Plastic Pollution: A 2020 study published in Environmental Science & Technology found that “flushable” wipes were the second most common type of plastic debris found on beaches across the globe.
  • Microplastic Pollution: When wipes break down, they release microplastics into the environment, harming marine life and potentially entering the food chain.


Understanding Flushable Wipes Labeling

So, how can you navigate the confusing world of flushable product claims? Look for labeling that includes these key qualities:

  • Septic-Safe: This indicates the paper is designed to break down quickly in septic systems, which are more delicate than municipal sewer systems.
  • Biodegradable: Opt for toilet paper that biodegrades readily, minimizing its environmental impact.
  • Recycled Content: Choose recycled toilet paper to reduce your environmental footprint.
  • Dissolvability Test: If possible, conduct a simple dissolvability test by placing a piece of the toilet paper in water for a few minutes. If it breaks down quickly like regular toilet paper, it’s a good choice.

While there are, indeed, some flushable sanitary products that are actually safe to flush, they are far and few between. And a significant aspect of the problem lies in the uninformed practice of many consumers who simply flush anything that is made with paper or paper-like materials.


Some specific materials that are routinely flushed include:

  • Wipes: A Franklin Miller study found that 90 percent of flushed materials were not intended for wastewater treatment, with wipes being the most common culprit.
  • Paper Towels: A UK Water study revealed that paper towels can be 20 times more likely to cause blockages compared to toilet paper.
  • Feminine Hygiene Products: These products often contain cotton and plastic, which can contribute to build-up and blockages in pipes.

Beyond Labels: Making Smart Choices

Remember, even “flushable” products with labels that claim to be septic-safe and biodegradable are not  guaranteed to provide you with problem-free disposal. In fact, the safest practice is to simply stick with regular toilet paper.

Here are some additional tips for responsible flushing:

  • Only Flush Toilet Paper: This may seem obvious, but it’s worth reiterating. Only flush what’s designed to be flushed – toilet paper.
  • Limit the Amount: Avoid flushing excessive amounts of toilet paper at once, even if it’s labeled “flushable.”
  • Invest in Quality Toilet Paper: Choose high-quality, dissolvable toilet paper specifically designed for sewer systems.
  • Dispose of Wipes Properly: Never flush wipes, feminine hygiene products, or paper towels. Dispose of them in the trash.

NW Sewer and Drain for Clogged and Sewer Solutions: No Matter the Cause

Navigating the world of “flushable” claims can be tricky, but by understanding the truth behind the label and making informed choices, you can protect your plumbing system, the environment, and your wallet. Remember, when in doubt, stick to toilet paper and dispose of everything else responsibly. By working together, we can ensure a smoother flow for everyone, both at home and in our communities.

Whether you are dealing with a clogged sewer line, a basement drain backing up, or any other plumbing issue, you can count on NW Sewer and Drain to provide exceptional service. We pride ourselves on our professionalism, knowledge, and commitment to customer satisfaction.

Don’t let clogged drains disrupt your daily life. Contact NW Sewer and Drain today for all your sewer line repair and drain cleaning needs. We are here to help you keep your plumbing system running smoothly and efficiently.


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