The Simple Mistake That Could Cost You $10k: The Secret That Other Plumbers Don’t Want You To Know
It affects almost every home in Australia. It’s sneaking through your home plumbing without you knowing. And, without warning, you could face a $10,000 bill.
We’re talking about wet wipes.
Enough wet wipes have been flushed into Sydney’s sewer to, if laid out, reach Los Angeles and back again. That’s 12,066km - it would take over 28 hours on a plane.
This seemingly harmless way of freshening up after a trip to the toilet is quickly becoming a multimillion-dollar headache for water utilities providers. So across Australia, there’s a push to keep wipes out of the pipes.
Why Should You Care?
Simply put, it will affect your home plumbing in a big way.
If you flush wet wipes, makeup wipes, or any other cleaning wipe you’re massively increasing your chances of a big blockage and a plumbing bill to match.
The ad below, courtesy of Sydney Water, explains it well:
And it's not just your blocked drains at risk - wet wipes disposal causes even more far reaching problems by clogging and damaging public sewers. But that’s not your problem, right?
Well, the problem isn’t just blocked sewers. When a blockage occurs, it can quickly cascade into a more serious situation, where raw sewage is forced to divert through the waterways into home sewers and natural waterways. Unhygienic, unsightly, unsafe.
As plumbers we’d be better off keeping quiet about this, since a permanent solution for a bad blockage under the wrong cicumstances can cost around $10,000. But we feel we have a duty to inform people and prevent these problems to save you money and help to save the environment.
How Big Is The Problem?
In a word: huge.
Sydney Water claims that a shocking 75% of sewer blockages involve flushed wet wipes. In fact, over 500 tonnes of wet wipe products are removed from Sydney Water’s utilities every year.
That’s the same weight as 4 blue whales!
This causes untold damage to both residential plumbing and the environment.
“Antibacterial”: The Biggest Danger To Drains
The antibacterial properties of wet wipes are what make them so dangerous.
This is because the normal lifecycles that lead to waste being broken down inside the sewer system are disrupted, as the bacteria that’s needed is killed off.
In a way, what makes the wet wipe so beneficial for people is, in fact, what causes so much damage to pipes.
The Marketing Myth of “Flushable” Wipes
1 in 4 of Sydney adults flush wet wipes away and Sydney Water’s statistics also claim that 12% of all wipes products are flushed.
This is partly because of a mess of marketing misinformation. People are twice as likely to flush something they believe is biodegradable, according to Sydney Water.
But the problem is: there is no such thing as a “flushable” wipe.
After a 750kg “snake” was removed from pipes using a crane, Nick Kaiser, from the Hunter Water Corporation, pointed out that wet wipes are, despite the marketing, nothing close to “flushable”.
More Costs Than Just Blocked Drains
If you had the choice, would you spend millions on your plumbing bill?
As taxpayers, we’re already spending $15,000,000 a year nationwide on clearing wipes in pipes. That’s enough to build a school.
And that cost will only increase in the future as water authorities battle the surge in “flushable” wipe usage.
The cost is estimated to be around $8,000,000 for Sydney Water alone. And according to director of the Water Services Association of Australia, Adam Lovell, the problem is constantly on the rise.
“We are unfortunately seeing an increasing frequency of sewage blockages… the problem has really exploded over the past couple of years and it’s costing millions to fix up”, Lovell told the ABC last year.
The costs aren’t only financial. The burden wet wipes place on local ecosystems can’t be ignored, either. When they enter the waterways and kill off bacteria native to the system, the whole food chain suffers.
Everything from plants to platypi are dependent on the naturally occurring bacteria at the bottom of the river food chain: when anti-bacterial wipes are introduced to the chain, all havoc breaks loose.
What’s Being Done About It?
Sydney Water’s “Keep Wipes Out Of The Pipes” campaign is the last-ditch effort by authorities to solve the problem. Because of the high number of people who believe wipes are flushable, a bit of myth-busting is necessary.
And, there’s been some success. A 50% reduction in the number of customers who think it’s okay to flush wet wipes is a huge improvement. As is the 57% drop in belief that flushing baby wipes is acceptable.
But the “flushable” advertising by the companies that make the wipes isn’t helping.
“Just because something’s flushable doesn’t mean it breaks down,” Sydney Water communications advisor Peter Hadfield advises. “My phone is flushable, but that doesn’t mean it should go down the toilet.”
As long as wet wipes are marketed as flushable, there will definitely be a widespread belief that they are. Fortunately, consumer group Choice is taking steps to ensure this stops. Because of Kleenex’s “pipe blocking efforts”, Choice awarded them a Shonky Award, and a place in their hall of shame.
After a test of 12 brands of wipes, Choice found that none of them broke up thoroughly or lost strength within 6 hours. Experts, however, say it’s critical that anything flushed breaks up immediately.
What Can You Do To Avoid a $10,000 Plumbing Bill?
It’s simple: don’t flush any kind of wipe, be it makeup, cleaning wipes or good old fashioned wet wipes.
Despite what the packaging may say, they are not flushable and will wreak havoc on your home plumbing.
We Can Rescue You
Prevention is the best cure, but if you suspect you’ve already got wipe woes, don’t hesitate to call us at Plumber & Electrician To The Rescue.