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Wastewater Treatment Facilities Waging War with Wipes

When's the last time you considered all the different things you may toss down the toilet? Certain things could have an effect on your bill further down the road.
JACKSONVILLE, AR - Decarla Reed, mother of a 1-year-old girl, goes through hundreds of wipes every month.

It can be expensive, but it's a must if you want a clean baby.

"A pack a week," Reed said. "What I do is I just change her. I put them inside her diaper."

She drops them right in the trash.

But that's not where most wipes end up. Many people will take the wipes, the ones that say flushable, and throw them in the toilet where you would think they should go. It's where they end up though, that's causing the problem.

"We're seeing it much more often," Thea Hughes says. "Baby wipes. There's makeup cleaning wipes. There are household cleaning wipes. We have even found some of the Swiffer mopheads."

All combined, those wipes can create massive clogs according to Hughes, the Jacksonville Wastewater Utility Manager.

Jacksonville just had a pump burn up two weeks ago specifically because of this problem.

Wastewater treatment plants will tell you they see it all: candy wrappers, toys, jewelry and even money.

It's wipes, however, that they say are wreaking the most havoc lately and are causing thousands of dollars in damages.

While many wipes packages will say flushable, they'll likely clear your plumbing pipes, but that's not the end of their journey.

"This is all blockages that we've pulled out of pumps," Hughes said pointing to pictures of clogs. "The only thing you should flush is toilet paper."

Toilet paper will break up in minutes. Even after an hour and a half in water for most wipes Hughes showed us, none were breaking down.

Hughes pulled a wipe from her demonstration.

"You can see that they certainly do not break up in water," she said.

Hughes says they used to only have to remove a clog once or twice a year. Now, it's multiple times a month.

Because of the burden disposable products are causing on wastewater systems, multiple organizations across the country are working to clear the clogs either by creating a product that will disperse like toilet paper or by requiring a large "do-not-flush" stamp right on the package.

Until that happens, the City of Jacksonville has pleaded for the last year with residents to stop flushing wipes as they've continued to spend thousands in repairs.

"As those costs go up, then of course, your [the resident's] wastewater bills would go up," Hughes explained.

Which is not something a mother already spending hundreds on wipes would want to hear.

"My mind is like throw them in the trash," Reed remarked.
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