Warning with wastewater blockages on the rise

Media release

1 April

Sydney Water is reporting an increase in blockages in the wastewater system, caused by a rise in non-flushable items such as wet wipes being disposed of down the toilet.

The increase follows weeks of sustained shortages of toilet paper in supermarkets amid COVID-19.

Darren Cash, Manager Customer Hub at Sydney Water, says customers flushing alternatives to toilet paper can have serious consequences for public health and the environment.

“We’re concerned because we’ve seen a 22% rise in blockages for March caused by non-flushables such as wet wipes and tissues.

“The build-up of wet wipes, facial tissues and paper towels along with fats, oils and grease which people pour down the drain can cause blockages and what we call fatbergs. This can result in overflows into local waterways and homes,” said Mr Cash.

“Even though wet wipes might state that they are flushable on their packaging, the reality is that they don’t break down. And even though facial tissues might be made from fine materials, they also don’t break down.”

“If people are forced to use alternatives to toilet paper they should dispose of it in the bin.” Sydney Water estimates that about 75% of wastewater blockages involve flushable wet wipes.

The cost to Sydney Water of removing the 500 tonnes of flushed wet wipes from the wastewater system is upwards of $8 million every year, and this figure is growing.

“This problem isn’t just a financial hit to Sydney Water. Individual home owners may also be out of pocket with expensive plumbing bills. One Sydney resident had a plumbing bill of $16,000 to repair a problem caused by flushing wet wipes”, said Mr Cash.

“Our customers should remember only the three Ps can be flushed down your toilet – pee, poo and (toilet) paper.”

“We also remind customers to use a rubbish bin to dispose of fats, oils, grease and other food scraps instead of washing them down sinks.”