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Fighting 'The Unflushables'!

Every year in England and Wales water companies deal with over 300,000 blockages, thousands of which see people’s homes and belongings ruined by sewer flooding. Across Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, in the last year alone Southern Water has dealt with 23,000 blockages caused by a build up of fat and unflushable items in its 39,600KM of sewers. 

Around £90million is spent EVERY year clearing blockages nationwide. However total costs, including damage from pollution and clean-ups is estimated to exceed a whopping £200million each year. Money which has to come from somewhere…and it’s usually customers’ bills.
That’s why today, Southern Water and the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater), the independent consumer watchdog, have launched a new campaign called The Unflushables to help customers understand the impact of internal sewage flooding, and what simple steps people can take to stop it.

Five bizarre things found in UK sewers

  • A double bedsheet 
  • A spacehopper 
  • A dead sheep 
  • Body parts 
  • ‘Adult' toys 

‘The Unflushables’ campaign aims to help people across Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight know how to properly dispose of fat, oil, grease and unflushable items like wipes, tampons, nappies and condoms. It’s designed to help customers understand the impact a sewage flood in their house can have – and provide some hints and tips to help prevent it. 

Top tips for preventing sewer flooding

  • Clear your plates - scrape leftover food residues from plates, pans and utensils into the bin before washing up 
  • Contain the problem - put cooled fats into an old jam jar, butter tub or yogurt pot and then throw it away 
  • Bag it and bin it - use scented nappy sacks or dog poo bags (degradable if you can) to throw away any nappies, sanitary items or condoms 
  • Strain the pain - a simple sink or drain strainer can stop food and hair getting down the pipes 

As part of the campaign, they have a produced a new, stop-motion animation with award-winning Progress Film Company to help bring this sticky issue to life.

Tim Bagnall, Southern Water’s Wastewater Manager, said:

“Sewer flooding can be a really upsetting experience for our customers. Everyone in the water industry knows that fat, oil, grease and unflushables are one of the biggest causes of internal flooding, but it’s amazing how few of our customers make the link between what they flush down toilets and pour down sinks and the sewage flooding their home, if they’re unlucky enough to experience it.

“At least 95 per cent of wipes on the market are not designed to be flushable, and even those that say they are can cause blockages. When even a small blockage can cause sewage to flood homes and gardens, it’s something that people really need to be aware of and help take responsibility for.”  

Steve Grebby, CCWater’s sewer expert, said: 

“Sewer flooding causes misery for thousands of households every year and the emotional cost can be just as damaging as any financial implications. Treasured memories and possessions can be ruined in the blink of an eye.”

“One very simple way we can help protect ourselves and our neighbours from this threat is by making sure we only flush pee, poo and paper down the loo. It’s in all of our interests to keep sewage where it belongs – in the sewer.”

Notes to editors 

  • All the characters in the film are voiced by real Southern Water employees who work closely with the issues of fat, oil, grease and unflushables. They each voice a treasured possession from case files, apart from the toilet, who paints a very realistic picture of the devastation sewage floods can bring. 
  • Southern Water also removed nearly 7,000 tonnes of wipes, nappies, sanitary items and other things that shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet from sewage works our region; that’s the equivalent weight of 156,227 toilets. 
  • Southern Water was the first water company to employ a team of ex-policemen to help investigate blockages caused by some of our region’s 28,000 food outlets and restaurants, and achieved the country’s first prosecution in November 2015. 
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