Flushable Wipes are a Full-Flush Problem for Consumers and City Sewers

Where Flushable Wipes Wind Up. Source: NYC Environmental Protection

Where Flushable Wipes Wind Up. Source: NYC Environmental Protection

Remember when the world was young and all you needed to do your business was a porcelain throne and a handy roll of paper of varying softness and quilty-ness?  Now we have $10,000+ toilets that treat our posterior as though every BM is a spa treatment.  For those who want to pay for their $10,000 toilet in installments, there are flushable wipes … the Swiffer Sweeper of the derrière that is costing cities and private homeowners millions a year in damage resulting from clogs.  (Swiffer being another completely unnecessary product that proved people can be bamboozled by advertising.)

Both Swiffer and the disposable wipe were born out of marketers’ minds to increase sales of paper based products and used modern society’s germaphobia to do it.  Take note: According to the Centers for Disease Control, “soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes” and yet we’ve gone hand sanitizer crazy.  Why?  Because soap is cheap and it costs more to place hand sanitizers every five feet … and we fell for it.

Swiffer replaced the very serviceable, very reusable mop with images of filthy mops in dank closets waiting to ignite the plague … and we fell for it.  Flushable wipes on the other hand don’t seek to replace toilet paper … the makers are in the paper business … they want you to use both! Literally paper-wipe-paper your bum each time.  Triple play for the maker. And we’ve fallen for it to the tune of $6 billion according to a 2014 New York Post article.

And not only are flushable wipes an environmental disaster, they’re a plumbing nightmare too. You see, flushable wipes may disappear down the toilet, but they may reappear at your neighbor’s house and will definitely be a problem for your city sanitation department.

That’s because flushable wipes don’t disintegrate in water like toilet paper. In fact, some wipes don’t seem to disintegrate at all.  Consumer Reports tried to break them up using a stand mixer for over 10 minutes and failed.  Because they don’t disintegrate, they attract other things in sewage pipes and turn into things known in the biz as “fatburgs” that clog municipal sewage systems.

Every city where these wipes have caught on now spends extra money to clear away.  San Francisco spends $4 million a year on this problem.  London had to clear a 15-ton fatburg the size of a city bus.  New York City spends $18 million a year to clear 118,000 cubic yards of waste a month.

Clogs and fatburgs can occur anywhere.  It could be under your single-family home. It could be in a residential sewage line running under a street that causes a backup into several homes.  It could be in a high-rise where any unit below the wipe-flusher faces flooding.

During the past year, my high-rise has had at least two clogs attributed to wipes that damaged neighboring “downstream” units.  The repairs cost many thousands of dollars.

And for what?  To prove we’re susceptible to advertising? To be that extra percent cleaner?  From Swiffers, wipes, hand sanitizers and printer ink cartridges, haven’t we been bamboozled enough?

Remember the three Ps … pee, poop, and paper (toilet).  That’s it.

A grateful city thanks you.


Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement.  If you’re interested in hosting a Candysdirt.com Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016, my writing was recognized with Bronze and Silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email sharewithjon@candysdirt.com.