What not to flush down the toilet

  • Saturday, October 26, 2013

To many people, the toilet is a magical trash can. Simply toss, flush and your garbage is marvelously whooshed away and never seen again, or so they think. In fact, such practices clog toilets, damage wastewater treatment facilities, cause expensive cleanups, increase operations and maintenance costs, create wastewater overflows, harm marine life and create toxic environmental issues.

This is a topic that although it may seem everyone would understand, they don’t. So, here are the basics behind what you can and cannot flush down the toilet.

What you CAN flush:

This is simple. The three things you should flush down the toilet are the three p’s; poop, pee, and paper (that is toilet paper). That’s it. There is no need to get any more complicated. That is all that should go down the toilet.

What you should NOT flush:

This list could go on and on, but here’s the general rule: If it is not one of the three p’s, do not flush it.

Kleenex, or tissue paper should not be flushed. This type of tissue paper is designed to stay together when wet. It takes too long to break down in the wastewater system, and can cause wastewater blockages.

Unused drugs, or pharmaceuticals, should not be flushed! Our wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove certain chemicals found in drugs. They are not removed and are eventually discharged into the Charleston Harbor and the marine environment.

Fats, oils or greases, although these go down the sink easily when heated, they cool in the wastewater system and clog up pipes.

Do not flush items labeled as “Flushable.” They are touted as disposable and even flushable but, “flushable” wipes cause big headaches for our wastewater operators. Their cloth-like material doesn’t break down in the wastewater system like toilet paper and cause major blockages in our wastewater lines, clog pumps and increase our operation and maintenance costs.

Rags, diapers, feminine products, coffee grounds and filters, plastic, metal, toys, clothing and cloth material, cotton swabs and paper towels are also products that should not end up in your wastewater system. Chemicals, cleaners, paint and other liquids should not go down the drain either.

Why care? Although the things that you flush down the toilet may pass through your home’s plumbing, the problems created downstream affect more than just your family. If what you flush down the toilet does not make it out of your home’s plumbing system the damage can be extensive, and at times, not covered by your home owner’s insurance. This can be costly. Imagine what it is doing to the wastewater system that services nearly 70,000 people. So, “when you flush think of us” and if it is not the three p’s; poop, pee, and paper (toilet paper) don’t do it.

Clay Duffie is general manager of Mount Pleasant Waterworks and has more than 30 years of experience in water and wastewater management practice. He is a past president of the South Carolina Water Pollution Control Association and the S.C. Section of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and has led numerous national seminars on environmental, leadership and utility management issues.

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