The Western News delved into the problem of disposable wipes in 2013. The problem of flushable wipes clogging up sewer systems is continuing to increase according to officials. Western News file photo

Tax dollars down the toilet

Penticton joins coalition to wipe-out flushable wipes

The City of Penticton is hoping to, well, “wipe out” the problem of flushable wipes.

It’s not really a joking matter. Disposable wipes, while convenient and popular, don’t degrade all that quickly when you flush them down the toilet. The resulting mess has to be cleaned out of lift stations manually, at taxpayer expense.

The Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group (MESUG) estimates municipalities across the country are spending more than $250 million of taxpayer money each year to address issues caused by baby wipes, disinfectant wipes and other allegedly flushable materials.

“When they hit the lift stations, they float, and you end up with this big mat of disposable wipes floating on the surface and we have to take our vacuum truck and suck them out,” said Randy Craig, wastewater supervisor. “It’s labour intensive and it’s a dirty job. Then disposing of them is another issue. Every municipality is struggling with it.”

The problem, he explains, makes for a significant maintenance and repair cost to local taxpayers and can block pipes, leading to wastewater overflows into homes.

Related: Officials raising stink about sewer clogs in South Okanagan

It’s such a universal program that cities, including Penticton, are partnering with MESUG and the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA) to help raise awareness of flushable wipes and their damage to city sewer systems.

The wipes offer the convenience of quick disposal. But contrary to marketing, the wipes are not flushable, do not break down and cause blockages to the turbines and pumps that keep sewer systems running.

“We pull loads and loads out every year,” said Craig. “They can be in there for months and they look like the day they were flushed down the toilet, they just don’t break down.”

The coalition hopes to create an enforceable standard, contributing to a common fund for the further work of the International Standards Organization (ISO) and International Water Services Flushability Group (IWSFG). The goal would be a standard where manufacturers would either make the wipes break down easier, or not advertise them as flushable.

A quicker fix for the problem, Craig said, would be for people to stop flushing the wipes down the toilet, something many cities are trying to convince their residents.

“You can flush a lot of things down the toilet. It doesn’t mean you should,” said Craig.

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