‘Flushable’ wipes can create costly problems for cities and homeowners

“The wipes do not degrade as fast as toilet paper does."
“The wipes do not degrade as fast as toilet paper does."(Blake Holland/KLTV)
Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 10:28 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2022 at 10:35 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - They are products many of you have in your own home—specifically your bathroom. We’re talking about wipes advertised as flushable. But, those who treat wastewater and plumbers say they can create costly problems for both city sewer systems and homeowners.

“The wipes do not degrade as fast as toilet paper does,” said Michael Norris, who manages the Tyler Wastewater Treatment System.

The wastewater system is responsible for treating the water we flush before sending it flowing into West Mud Creek. Norris said while toilet paper and human waste breaks down before arriving at one of Tyler’s two wastewater treatment plants, flushable wipes do not.

“Even though they say they’re a plant-based product, they can take days to degrade,” Norris said.

Flushable wipes or "rags" can be seen in a screen device that removes them during the...
Flushable wipes or "rags" can be seen in a screen device that removes them during the wastewater treatment process.(Blake Holland/KLTV)

“They will clog up the sanitary sewer lines that bring the water to the plants, and they will also clog up the pumps within the lift station. So, those lines have to be cleaned. The rags removed. That takes extra manpower to do that, to unclog those pumps.”

More manpower and more money, ultimately funded by the taxpayers, and it’s not just a problem for city wastewater systems.

“A good 40 to 50% of our stoppage issues are coming from, quote unquote flushable wipes,” said John Crymes, who owns and manages Benjamin Franklin Plumbing in Whitehouse.

Crymes said if the wipes don’t make it to the wastewater plant, there’s a good chance they’re building up in your own pipes.

“It just turns into a nightmare for the homeowners,” he said.

To help show us what happens, Crymes brought out a cast iron pipe, which he said is still used in about 70% of Tyler.

Crymes shows two different types of pipe and explains how they handle flushable wipes.
Crymes shows two different types of pipe and explains how they handle flushable wipes.(Blake Holland/KLTV)

“The inside of that line is very tacky. It grabs everything,” Crymes said. “If you’ve got a rag that’s flushable it just doesn’t break down as it traps inside that pipe.”

To help get things flowing again after clearing the clog, plumbers will install liners to make it more like PVC pipe.

“You might get lucky if it’s a newer home with PVC. You’re going to get lucky, because it’s going to get all the way down the city lines.”

And, that brings us back to the Southside Wastewater Treatment Plant, where the advice is simple: toss ‘flushable’ wipes in the trash, not the toilet.

“Dispose of it in the trash,” said Norris.

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