RWSA: 'Flushables' Cause More Work, Trouble for Pipes

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Flushable cleansing cloths Flushable cleansing cloths
Tim Castillo Tim Castillo
Chris Thompson Chris Thompson

Officials at the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) say people flushing items down the toilet to keep waste out of the landfill may be doing more harm than good.

Within the past decade, sewage companies say they've seen an increase in people using what are being called "flushable” items. They say it's a main reason the cost of sewage is going up around Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

“It’s flushable. that means it can go down the pipe, that's all its referring to,” said Tim Castillo with the RWSA.

Flushables - including baby wipes, adult diapers, and floor sweeping napkins - made their way down the pipes in a home, but not always through them.

“What happened was, the product said flushable, that's what happened. And what they didn't take into effect is things just hanging in pipes, not moving along, and just sitting there not doing anything,” said Chris Thompson with Michael & Son.

The issue doesn't stop with in-home plumbing. Toilet paper and flushables decompose differently in water, that's why the sewage authority says only one of these is good to go down the pipes.

“These plastics and fibers go through our equipment, and they matte up and recombine - weave themselves back together downstream - which causes issues in pumps,” Castillo said.

RWSA administrators say they see everything but toilet paper and waste. They say people don't want to send items to the landfill, but that's where it ends up anyway.

“We literally squeeze the water out leaving a dry product so it can be sent to the landfill,” said Castillo. “That's the only place it can go.”

The 40 to 50 percent increase of items that need to be streamed out of the water increase the cost to the city and county sewage authority.

“It becomes a safety hazard really to some of our technicians who have to go in and physically remove these blockages,” Castillo said.

“My suggestion is put them in the trash” said Thompson.

Right now there are a few major studies in the works to determine an acceptable standard for the decomposition of flushable products. But until companies receive those conditions and adjust their products, your best bet is to keep them out of the pipes.