Stop Flushing Anything Besides Toilet Paper, Valley Cities Urge Residents

Flushing any wipes but toilet paper can lead to sewage backups. Throw those alternative wipes in the trash, cities say.EXPAND
Flushing any wipes but toilet paper can lead to sewage backups. Throw those alternative wipes in the trash, cities say.
Ray Stern
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What happens if you run out of toilet paper in the coronavirus era? You reach for an alternative: a baby wipe, Kleenexes. A paper towel, if you stocked up on those.

But whatever you do, do not throw that alternative in the toilet.

Paper towels, facial tissue, so-called flushable wipes — anything other than good, old TP could clog up your property's sewer lines, leading to a disgusting mess in your home or apartment, or worse, interfere with city wastewater treatment plants that we all need. Used alternative wipes must be thrown in the trash.

That's the new way of American life being promoted by the city of Scottsdale today.

"This cannot be overstated…do not flush any paper products other than toilet paper!" reads a press release from Scottsdale today. "With the unprecedented toilet paper shortage facing so many of us, people will inevitably need to rely on baby wipes, 'flushable,' wipes, paper towels, tissue or other paper items for personal cleaning. These items do not break down in the sewer system and can cause costly backups into your home or street and can significantly impact our wastewater treatment plants."

"It's a strange time," Nicole Sherbert, Scottsdale spokesperson, acknowledged. "We don't have a problem right now, but we wanted to get out in front of this."

The city already conducts regular inspections for blockages at its two water-treatment facilities, which process a combined 24 million gallons a day. But inspection operations have been stepped up, Sherbert said.

"We do have some things that can go in and break up huge blockages, but we're hoping we don't get to that point," she said. "In a situation so unprecedented, we want to make sure people think about it."

Flushing paper towels for a week could well mean a back-up in a home's "laterals," the pipes that flow from the sewer line in the middle of a street and connect to the home, she continued, adding a reminder that homeowners are responsible for dealing with such back-ups on their property.

"The last thing anyone wants is to have call a plumber now," she said.

Other Valley cities echo the sentiment.

"It's not a huge problem now for us, but could very well turn into one," said Stephanie Bracken, the city of Phoenix spokesperson for water issues. Anything other than bodily waste and toilet paper "clogs pumps and lift stations that help transport waste to the treatment plant."

She added: "It's a messy job to clean up for the staff. In our opinion, there is no such thing as a flushable wipe."

Megan Sheldon, a deputy director in the city of Glendale's water services department, agreed about the flushable wipes, saying they've contributed to several clogs at the wastewater plant in recent years.

"Kleenex is probably okay," she ventured. "Napkins I would not recommend." Sheldon also reminded the public not to flush disinfecting wipes once they are used.

Sherbert related how she recently got home from a Mexico vacation to find the United States in coronavirus turmoil — and her own home uncomfortably short of toilet paper.

"We have very little toilet paper in the house," she said. "I keep trying to get onto Amazon, I've tried Fry's, I've tried Walmart. I have my mom out trying to find toilet paper as well. I'm quite certain my family will have to switch over to paper towels before long.

"Think of it like we're in Mexico," Sherbert said she told her son. "You throw it in the trash."

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