More than 6,000 tons of wet wipes and other sewer blockers made their way into Southern Water’s sewer network between April and November 2014 – the equivalent in weight of 2,000 hippos.
Of this, 2,155 tons were cleared from wastewater treatment works in Kent, 2,018 tons from Sussex ,1,853 tons from Hampshire and 165 tons from the Isle of Wight, arriving via the sewers after being flushed down toilets.
Wipes and things like sanitary products, cotton wool and cotton buds can block sewers, causing serious problems – potentially leading to pollutions or flooding of homes and gardens as sewers back up and overflow from manholes.
Paul Kent, Southern Water’s Wastewater Strategy Manager, said: “The use of wet wipes and things like make-up wipes, moist toilet tissue and cleaning wipes, apparently rises by 15 per cent each year but this trend is putting a strain on our sewers – as shown by the huge amount cleared from our works.
“Unlike toilet roll, these wipes don’t break down when flushed, so frequently cause blockages. They can also cause damage at our treatment works as they can get tangled up in pumps and filters. Even those said to be ‘flushable’ cause problems – they may flush away but they don’t biodegrade so can still block pipes further down the line.
“The same applies to things like cotton buds, dental floss, make up wipes and cotton wool. Flushing them causes a pain in the drain, which is why we urge people to only flush the three Ps – pee, poo and paper.”
The sewers’ other biggest enemy is cooking fat poured down drains, which solidifies over time. Last year, 11,000 blockages in Southern Water’s region were caused by fat, wipes and other things that should not be in sewers. It’s a nation-wide problem - in England and Wales, more than two thirds of sewer blockages are caused by inappropriate items finding their way down the sink or toilet.