The Green Leaf

Don't flush those wipes

August 10th, 2015
Wipes and what appears to be a piece of a knitted item, cleared from Lualualei wastewater pumping system. Photo courtesy Department of Environmental Services.

Wipes and what appears to be a piece of a knitted item, cleared from Lualualei wastewater pumping system. Photo courtesy Department of Environmental Services.

Don't flush those wipes.

So yes, it does say "flushable wipes" on the package. Cottonelle says it. So does Charmin and Huggies. The thing is that you can flush it down your toilet at home without clogging up your plumbing, but from a larger picture perspective, it's going to cause problems in Honolulu's sewer system. Consumer Reports conducted a study to see if flushable wipes are flushable. After 10 minutes in a blender, the wipes did not break down.

And even though you may think, so what? That doesn't affect me. It does. It all comes back around, in some form or other. Especially on an island. If it costs the city  more to clear up the clogged pumps, it'll eventually cost you more. If it ends up flowing over into the ocean, well, guess what you get to swim with next time you're out there?

So don't flush those wipes.

Warning: The following picture is not pretty.

The crew at Lualualei Wastewater Pump Station recently extracted an amalgam of paper towels, flushable wipes and rags from one of the pumps to make sure it doesn't mess up the machines. It's a weekly chore at the Lualualei pump station. At the West Beach pump station near Ko Olina, the crew goes more than four times a week.

Mix of "flushable" wipes, paper towels and rags that crews collected from the Lualualei wastewater pump station.Photo courtesy Honolulu Department of Environmental Services.

Mix of "flushable" wipes, paper towels and rags that crews collected from the Lualualei wastewater pump station. Photo courtesy Honolulu Department of Environmental Services.

Honolulu is not the only city that deals with it, although the problem is getting worse here, according to environmental services director Lori Kahikina. The department recently launched a radio campaign, telling the public not to flush those wipes.

In March, the New York Times ran a huge story on how the wipes were costing millions of dollars in equipment damage in New York City's sewer system. Hawaii had the honor of being named as a state plagued with the problem, along with with Alaska and California.

"The city is not alone. Wet wipes, which do not disintegrate the way traditional toilet paper does, have plagued Hawaii and AlaskaWisconsin and California. Sewer systems have been stuffed in Portland, Ore., and Portland, Me. Semantic debates have visited Charleston, W.Va., challenging the latitude of “flushability.” “I agree that they’re flushable,” said Tim Haapala, operations manager for the Charleston Sanitary Board. “A golf ball is flushable, but it’s not a good idea.”

New York Times 

So, whatever your personal lifestyle, just  know not to flush those wipes.

By the way, other items that you shouldn't flush down the toilet include: disposable diapers, napkins, paper towels and dental floss. I did not know about the dental floss. Hair is not a good thing to flush down the toilet, either.

One Response to “Don't flush those wipes”

  1. Kenneth Fujii:

    I enjoyed reading and learning from the info that you included in your column about all of the items which should NOT be flushed down the toilet. On a flight back from the mainland, I even noticed that there are signs in the Airline Restrooms advising us not to flush paper towels etc into the toilet.
    One technical misinformation in the newsprint article was that you indicated that sewage all the way from HAWAII KAI must travel many miles to the sewage treatment plant in town. That is not true. Hawaii Kai has its own PRIVATELY OWNED Wastewater Treatment Plant called HAWAII AMERICAN WATER. So the sewage in Hawaii Kai does not enter the City's sewage system. We pay a big monthly fee to the private company for our sewage service. This covers Hawaii Kai from the edge of Kuliouou all the way thru Kalama Valley to the Hawaii Golf Course area. Of course, the info you wrote and published applies to Hawaii Kai as well as to the City Owned system, so the info you provided is applicable to us as well as the rest of Oahu. Thanks.


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