Wet wipes and other wacky things clogging ACT pipes

Wet wipes and other wacky things clogging ACT pipes

Canberra's sewage pipes are bursting with the weird, the wonderful and, well, the expected.

But now there's an added stress that is costing the ACT hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix.

An ACTEW Water Pump clogged with a mass of disposable wet wipes.

An ACTEW Water Pump clogged with a mass of disposable wet wipes.

Some Canberrans seem to feel that toilet paper simply isn't doing the job – and instead they turn to wet wipes.

Although most wipes are marketed as "flushable" and "biodegradable", they still end up clogging sewage pipes across Australia.


A blockage occurs every three days or so, meaning workers have to head down to fix them.

The process costs nearly $70,000 each year and exposes workers to higher risks of injury.

It also unnecessarily sends foul smelling odours wafting down the streets, says ACTEW Water spokeswoman Angie Drake.

"Instead of disintegrating after flushing – like toilet paper does—the synthetic body wipes are not breaking down," Ms Drake said.

"The message is relatively simple for the community: only human waste and toilet paper should be flushed."

Although many popular companies advertise their wipes as flushable, few disclose how their wipes are made, or what materials are used.

Biodegradable isn't good enough, because the sewage system is only designed for two things, Ms Drake said.

"It's important to remember that even though some wipes are advertised as `flushable', they are certainly not welcome in our network."

Wet wipes have been gaining in popularity over the last few years in Australia, encouraged by the companies which sell them.

For example Kleenex, whose wipes are a "cloth-like material", advises consumers to "think twice about the way you clean".

"It's pretty clear you can't clean without water… It's kind of like using toilet paper without cleansing cloths," says one of the Kleenex ads.

Sorbent also advises its wipes for the "ultimate clean" and Harpic, who produce wipes to clean the toilet, say their wipes are "tough enough" to clean but suitable to flush.

Ms Drake said:

"I imagine people don't go out of their way to do the wrong thing and if they knew they were impacting on the network in this way they would change."

It's not only wipes that find their way into the system, just this Monday a pair of women's underwear were pulled from a sewage pump in Belconnen.

Ms Drake says wedding bands can also end up going down the toilet – but they can't be saved afterwards.

"We need more people to know that it's toilet paper only."

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