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  • Writer's pictureJane Wheeler

The 3 P's and Fatbergs

I came across a new word this week: “Fatberg” – it intrigued me and that is how this blog came to be.

When I was in Europe as well as on certain cruise ships, you were told that paper was not for the toilet. They offered little paper bags to put the paper into instead of flushing. We from North America do not find that at all appealing but when you have sewer systems as old and as finicky as theirs, they have learned that somethings just do not do well when they get flushed. Let’s say it causes problems.

Well, I have always said that “flushable” wet wipes, those new fandangled items that we never had when I was a kid, were not really flushable. Turns out I was right!

Cities around North American are actually suing stores and manufacturers that label and sell wet wipes that are labeled as “flushable” because quite simply they are NOT!

This is a worldwide problem wherever wet wipes are sold.

If we seriously want to talk about the environment and what is killing it, let’s do our part then STOP flushing the wet wipes, put them into the trash and if that is a problem for you then simply stop buying them. I personally know we got along just fine without them for many a years.

One of my other pet peeves is the ban on plastic bags. Oh, I have seen the problem that these bags are causing and I am not denying that there is an issue. But here’s the deal….there are alternatives that we are not even hearing about. Years ago, back in 2007 when I worked in the health food industry we started using “compostable” plastic bags. Yes, these are real! Bags that actually break down and are not a problem for the environment. Do you see many companies using these? Have you heard of these? No.

Do you know why? They were more expensive than the regular plastic bags. Money.

I just read today that Ikea is now using Mushroom packaging that will decompose in the garden in a few weeks - Way to Go! That is inovative and good on them to spend the money!

Because another company does not wish to spend the extra money on compostable bags, or packaging, I get to the check out, have forgotten my bag in the car. I have over 20 items and I am expected to carry out (because bags are banned in several stores) all the way to the car. I might as well have taken up juggling. Some stores offer to sell you cloth bags, some offer boxes and a select few offer good old fashioned paper bags, while some just sit back and watch you try to carry the load out by yourself. On a particular cranky day I want to say, “Will you be helping me to the car? If not, I’ll just leave my purchase there and I will be taking 3 trips – you can wait.”

Just had to get the plastic bag rant out….back to wet wipes.

When there is a sewer back up, raw sewage gets spilled into the environment and often back up your toilet into your home. Yucky!

Are they handy? – yes. Did COVID increase their use by 4 times because of our new germ fettish? Yes.

Wipes are used in all kinds of places, we have baby wipes, seniors centers use wipes, hospitals use wipes, and of course in the home we have our private use wipes. We all bought a ton of wipes in Covid to alleviate germs wherever we went.

The problem now is this: tons and tons of wet wipes are clogging our sewer systems .

Look at some of these pictures……

Fatberg - Photo copyright The Guardian

Fatberg - Photo copyright The New New York Times

Hopefully you got a good “ick” factor from viewing this clogging problem.

Nicknamed “Fatbergs” (a rock-like mass of waste matter), it is a real thing – google it - these masses of wet wipes mix with oil, grease that also regularly goes down the sewer and become impenetrable clogs or “fatbergs”, that have to be manually removed from the sewer lines. Maryland had a 20 foot congealed “fatberg” that plugged up it’s sewer line. A 210 foot “monster of a fatberg”, the size of a double decker bus, was found in an English Thames river sewer system. It took over three weeks to remove it.

There have been lawsuits in the USA trying to eliminate the labeling of these wipes as “flushable” but manufacturers argue back that it is “unconstitutional” to force companies to take that off the label. Good grief, they are killing our sewers and they do not even have to clean or pay for the mess or stop lying on the label.

93% of the wipes sold today are not really flushable. To be deemed flushable the wipes need to break apart within a certain time frame, most wipes do not break down at all.

One of the lawsuits came about after divers, in 2018 had to swim down 90 feet through raw sewage into a dark wet well to pull a 12 foot long mass of wipes out of three pumps.

In Detroit – one pumping station averaged about 4,000 tons of wipes per week after the pandemic started. Per Week…..

What is even worse is that since Covid people are even flushing their face masks. Really? What in the world would convince people to flush a face mask? If wipes are an issue, you can imagine what masks can do to the poor sewer lines.

Did you know – people, real men and women have to clean this crap, literally, manually out of the sewer lines?

Fatbergs – they exist, they are real. Time for the 3 P’s people, do your part, ….only Pee, Poop, Paper – Please.

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