Fighting the unflushables

Some of the items found in our sewers are pictured

False teeth, mobile phones and cuddly toys are just some of the items our ‘Unflushables’ Team at Southern Water have found flushed down the toilet. 

We’re always looking at ways to keep sewer networks free from wet wipes, ‘unflushables’, fat, oil and grease by working together with communities and businesses. 

We have teams who travel the Southeast region who speak to customers and businesses, who are unaware of the trouble caused by flushing the incorrect items. We show them first hand examples of the problems that can be caused. 

Dropping wet wipes and kitchen grease down toilets and sinks causes sewer blockages and pollution incidents. You’re really playing ‘Flushian Roulette’, as that blockage might be in your sewer pipe leading to internal sewer flooding – a truly distressing thing to happen. 

However, we have had huge success and seen improvements. We have contact with around 25,000 customers a year through door knocking, delivering talks, attending events and carrying mini projects within selected catchment areas. We have also seen sewage blockages reduce by 20 per cent as a result. Food business blockages have also fallen by 25 per cent.  

Matt Collins, Field Customer Engagement Officer said, “We’ve had some unusual items found in the sewers, they have included false teeth, mobile phones, toys and even an inflatable life jacket. Other strange items include a set of Christmas tree lights and mobile phone, from the same blockage. We’ve also found a pickaxe end in Portsmouth and a pair of jeans in Southampton. 

“The only things that should be flushed down the toilet are the three Ps – pee, poo and paper. For everything else - Bag it and Bin it.” 

In numbers 

  • Over 6,000 tons of wet wipes and ‘unflushables’ removed over 8 month period, that’s enough to fill 750 eight cubic yard skips, which would stretch 2.75 km 
  • We were clearing over 23,000 blockages a year 
  • 66 per cent of blockages are preventable  
  • 2,700 manholes surveyed each year 


Our Improvement: 

  • Contact with around 25,000 customers 
  • Sewer blockages have reduced by 20% 
  • Food business repeat blockages have fallen by 25% 
  • We’ve engaged with over 28 large food chains 

Did you know

  • Over 6,000 tons of wet wipes and ‘unflushables’ removed over an 8 month period. This is enough to fill 750 eight cubic yard skips, which would stretch 2.75 km 
  • Wet wipes are one of the biggest causes of blockages in sewers and at wastewater treatment works. Even wipes described as “flushable” cause blockages and the biodegradable ones often don’t spend long enough in the sewer to start to decompose. 
  • Toilet paper decomposes naturally and can be flushed away safely, but non-biodegradable items, such as wet wipes, should be put in the bin.