Water companies in the United Kingdom have warned households not to flush anything that isn’t toilet paper down their toilets after a huge increase in emergency call outs relating to blocked sewer pipes during the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak.
Severn Trent, Northumberland Water and Scottish Water are among those to have reminded their customers to protect pipework during lockdown by ensuring that nothing other than ‘the three p’s – pee, poo and toilet paper’ gets flushed away.
In the past fortnight, Scottish Water have had to unblock 1343 blocked sewer pipes – an average of nearly 100 per day. Northumberland have reported a similar increase in call outs while Severn Trent foresaw the problems to come, issuing warnings to their customers in the middle of March about the dangers of treating a toilet like a bin.
The increasing number of blocked pipes is as a result of Covid-19 coronavirus panic buying. As households began to panic buy and hoard toilet rolls, so supplies became limited and those who were left without were forced into improvising.
As a result, paper towels, wet wipes, newspapers and other non-biodegradable alternatives were being used and then flushed away.
Sewerage and toilet systems cannot break down any material that isn’t toilet paper. Once these materials enter pipes, they cause blockages either via snagging or by congealing into a solid mass.
Some water companies have in the past reported finding congealed baby wipes that have built up into blockages the size of a family car.
Blockages can have devastating consequences. Should a property’s sewer pipes end up blocked with wastewater unable to escape, then homes can be flooded with toilet waste.
There is also a real danger to the environment. Wipes, kitchen roll and other toilet roll alternatives can cause environmental damage and pollution as sewerage plants are unable to treat foreign materials.
The increasing care taken by people washing and cleaning their hands during the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak is also contributing to the problem.
Anti-bacterial wipes used to clean hands are increasingly being flushed down toilets rather than disposed of as rubbish.
Severn Trent’s warnings about the problems caused by flushing away anything other than toilet roll were issued by Grant Mitchell, the company’s blockages lead.
Mr Mitchell said, “Sewers are only designed to cope with toilet paper and human waste. So, some of the things people throw down the toilet, like wet wipes and kitchen roll, can easily snag on the inside of a pipe and block it.”
“Then, when a sewer is blocked the waste has to go somewhere. This means it usually comes out of a drain and can flood roads, or even your home with sewage. And, during times like this, this is the last thing anyone wants. But all this can easily be avoided, by people disposing of items in the bin, and not the toilet or sink.”
Head of Wastewater at Northumberland Simon Cyhanko acknowledged the issues caused by Covid-19 coronavirus panic buying, but urged people to dispose of materials in the correct manner.
“We understand some people affected by the limited toilet roll availability may have no choice but to use alternative products, but we really need our customers’ help by making one small change – and that’s to put wipes and any alternatives in the bin.”
The United Kingdom isn’t the only country suffering from blocked pipes caused by the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak. In Australia, ABC have reported that residents in Queensland even resorted to flushing old clothes away in lieu of toilet paper.
The increasing amount of time people are spending in their homes is also adding to the pressure on Britain’s pipe systems.
With more meals being cooked and prepared at home, food waste is also at risk of blocking drains when washed down sinks.