These "flushable" items could be blocking your Sydney drains

There are plenty of products out there claiming to be “flushable”. When it comes to the crunch, however, many of these products are not doing what they say they do. Instead of disappearing forever down the toilet when flushed, these items are clogging up toilets and sewers across Sydney, costing homeowners and Sydney Water millions of dollars.

So what does "flushable" even mean?

According to the organisations EDANA (Europe) and INDA (North America) in order to be labelled as “flushable” a product must undergo and pass several tests including the slosh box test. The purpose of this test is to assess the potential for a product to disintegrate when it is subjected to mechanical agitation in water or wastewater.

Nappy Science Gang spoke to UK based company United Utilities, and found a similar definition. In order to be considered "flushable", and therefore not pose a risk of blocking your water pipes, it should break up in water after three minutes of continuous agitation (the “shake it” experiment).

According to Severn Trent, another water company, anything labelled as “flushable” should break down after a wash in the washing machine (the “wash it” experiment).

Flushable wet wipes

Let’s start with “flushable” wet wipes, quite possibly the worst culprit when it comes to blocking Sydney drains.

Producers of these wet wipes are marketing them as flushable, claiming they “disintegrate” in the same manner as toilet paper. However, some companies are now facing legal action for making false and misleading representations about their products.

The consumer watchdog has alleged use of advertising terms such as "flushable", "able to be flushed in the toilet", and "designed ... [to] disintegrate in the sewage system" led consumers to believe the products had similar characteristics to toilet paper, when this was not the case.

According to a 2016 SMH article, Sydney Water has been ‘inundated with complaints from households that have paid $300 to $16,000 to get plumbers to clear drains clogged with balls of intransigent wipes.’

Sydney water has removed more than 1000 tonnes of wet wipe materials from its wastewater system in the past two years. If laid end-to-end, that's enough wet wipes to reach LA and back again. A whopping 75% of all sewer blockages involve wet wipes.

A number of tests performed by Sydney Water performed on the so-called “flushable” wipes, found that they didn’t break down even after 20 hours of being agitated in water.

Choice spokesperson, Tom Godfrey, told the SMH that "The 'flushable' claims were one of the greatest consumer cons going around. It was very clear these products shouldn't be flushed," he said.

Flushable kitty litter

Flushable kitty litter is made from a range of different things including wood chips, bentonite clay and recycled paper. All of them, for obvious reasons, are designed to soak-up and absorb liquid. The clay variety tends to form clumps when it come into contact with moisture while others, such as those made from paper pellets, expand. Based on these characteristics, it should come as no suprise that these products can lead to severly blocked drains in Sydney.

One product that has been accused of clogging up drains is Catlux Softwood Clumping Litter. It’s made from natural softwood chips with around 30% bentonite clay, and it claims to be environmentally friendly and flushable.

A quick look at Australian online reviews shows the impact it could have on your plumbing system, with one reviewer warning, 'Do not believe the marketing of this litter. The wet litter creates a blockage in the pipe system that will cost hundreds of dollars to fix. As the plumber has informed me, do not flush anything other than waste and toilet paper or pay the price.'

You can read about more poor experiences with “flushable” kitty litter on UK forum, Do it yourself, but a separate issue warrants consideration before we move on. A Yahoo article states that the biggest problem with flushing cat faeces down the toilet is a parasite called Toxoplasma Gondii. This parasite lives in cat faeces and is not broken down at the sewer plant, and is very dangerous to many marine life species.

Flushable nappy liners

There are also many brands of disposable nappy liners which claim to be “flushable”. Nappy Science Gang performed both the “wash it” and “shake it” test on fourteen different brands of flushable liners and not a single product passed either test.

Consumer experiences appear to mirrors these results.

One customer on the Babycentre forum states that, ‘I put a One Life flushable liner through the washing machine by accident the other day and it came out looking like rope! Clearly it hadn't even remotely begun to degrade, and I worried then what state our pipes and drains would be in. At least we caught it before it got REALLY bad. Does make you wonder though, one of the main reasons we went with cloth over disposables was for environmental reasons, to cut down on waste and try to live more sustainably, but it doesn't seem like so-called flushable/degradable liners live up to their billing as being a 'green' product if they're not breaking down in water as you'd expect them to.’

While this customer caught the problem before it resulted in a blocked drain, others weren’t so lucky. ‘We've just had to get Dynarod round to unblock our drains,’ says on lady. ‘Turns out the flushable wipes and liners we've been using with our cloth caused the blockage, and it cost us $250 to sort it out!’

What is safe to flush?

Sydney blocked drains are on the rise as consumers switch to “flushable” products. However, the convenience offered by these items appears to be short-lived. Not only are consumers paying more for flushable items, but they are also be forking out money for the cost of removing them once they block up the pipes.

If you want to avoid a Sydney blocked toilet emergency follow this simple rule. There are only three things that should be flushed down the toilet – number ones, number twos and toilet paper.

Need help from the blocked drain experts?

If you’ve fallen victim to the "flushable" marketing ploys, JAB Plumbing Solutions are here to help. We specialise in clearing blocked sewers and we can get your toilet working again in no time at all. Get a FREE quote from our friendly Sydney plumbers today. Call 1800 22 555 22