Flushable wipes don't belong in your toilet: Fredericton engineer

Fredericton continues to see problems related to so-called flushable wipes, according to the city's senior water and sewer engineer.

Neil Thomas gave a presentation to the city's public safety and environment committee Tuesday on the impact of consumer products on water and sewer infrastructure.

He said the durability of these wipes makes them great to use, but it means they do not disintegrate in water like toilet paper.

"None of them are flushable," said Thomas. "The flushable labels that we see right now in North America are a marketing claim."

The wipes can accumulate and create blockages in the sewage line, which can lead to sewage overflows and clogged pumps, he said.

Cost to taxpayers

Thomas estimates city taxpayers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars repairing problems caused by these popular products.

"If the pump is broken and needs to be replaced, most of even our smaller sewage life pump in our stations can be in the realm of $4,000 to $8,000 each depending on their size," he said.

"We're also looking at costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to re-equip some of our sewage treatment facilities to try to screen out the wipes and other garbage that our customers are flushing down the toilet from reaching into the treatment system and interfering with that."

In 2015, Thomas said city staff spent one week and about $28,000 to clear an estimated 3.5 tonnes of wipes and other products from the Garden Creek Lagoon.

Educating residents

Thomas said the problem is not unique to Fredericton and many other municipalities are facing similar challenges.

The city has tried several different educational campaigns in the past, but Thomas said many people are still not getting the message.

"We're going to have to become more aggressive with that campaign to reach out to all of the approximately 18,000 water and sewer customers," he said.

"We've got to get that education message out there that the toilet is not a garbage can and our wastewater collection treatment systems will work much better if they're not treated like a garbage can."