As school starts up again, and we begin to come into the cold and flu season this fall, all of us will ramp up on cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. The past two years the cleaning industry has made cleaning easier by creating all sorts of disinfecting and cleaning wipes. Many of them are labeled as disposable, and many people assume that means that they are flushable, but that is not the case.

What happens when a disposable wipe gets into the sewer system? They aren’t designed to break down like toilet paper. If they get to the treatment plant we need to physically remove them from the water before treatment (yuk!). Often they get stuck with other things that don’t belong in the pipes and can create expensive backups and maintenance issues.

Lakehaven is grateful that Washington state enacted legislation in July that put “Do Not Flush” labels on certain cleaning products. Please look for this new labeling. In general, unless it is toilet paper or human waste, please do not flush it down the drain.

I asked John Barton, our Wastewater Operations Manager, about the impact of wipes on our sewer system. He related the significant labor, equipment, and maintenance costs associated with these wipes. To process this garbage, we have to have special equipment to screen or chop it up at our pump stations and treatment facilities. It skews the biological testing results, making the operator’s job more difficult. We also have the cost of disposing of this garbage; if our biosolids have too much of this product in them we have to dispose of it as garbage at a huge cost instead of sending it to farms for soil amendments.

Just remember that toilets are not trash cans. Besides disposable wipes there are many other things that do not belong in the sewer system. Diapers and feminine products should never be flushed. Medicines and pharmaceuticals upset the biological processes in the treatment plant and are not good for the aquatic environment. Fats, oils and grease also should not go down the drain. As people cooked more at home during Covid, we experienced significantly more grease at our treatment plants. Other items that are garbage that we don’t want to process are latex products, paint and automotive fluids, paper towels and cotton balls, coffee grounds, produce stickers, excess food waste and hair.

I’m sure that you wouldn’t like the job of removing this garbage from the sewers. Please help out our maintenance personnel by keeping it out in the first place. Thank you for your valuable cooperation!