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When you flush, where does it go?


By Susan Hofforth


Recently there was a significant sewer blockage in the Hilltop area. There was, fortunately, no spill but large costs were incurred to clean it out. Crews pulled out 16 cubic meters of solids blocking 95 per cent of the sewer pipe. The solids were made up of supposedly biodegradable rags, sanitary pads and baby wipes, as well as sand, gravel and oil.


Just because an item is flushable, doesn’t mean you should flush it. It may not bother your toilet, like the bucket of golf balls that some toilets on the market claim their flushing system can send off without trouble, but that doesn’t make golf balls biodegradable and welcome in the sewer system. Items such as baby wipes claim to be flushable, but in fact, they cause significant operational issues in the sewer collection and treatment systems. Things like diapers, hair, paper towels and napkins, wipes and hygiene products, along with fats, oils and grease, do not break down or dissolve like organics or toilet paper


Toilet paper is subject to strict standards and testing to determine how quickly it must break down in water. There is no standard for napkins or wipes, or other materials, and they do not break apart in water. Sometimes it can take years for them to degrade once in the sewer system.


But why don’t they just flow through the pipe and come out on the other side? They can’t, because they get caught on clogs already there – and the buildup begins.


“In Hilltop, the sewer line was a trunk line installed in 1980 to accept wastewater from the industrial area when the area was not widely populated,” said Nick Slootweg, manager of utilities. “It’s a bigger pipe, so we check it every five years or so, especially with more people moving in.”


In the winter, when the ground is frozen, it is much easier and much less expensive to get in and clean. Now, the cleanup was very costly but it could have been much worse in terms of property damage to homes and businesses.


The only items that should be flushed are human waste, and toilet paper. There is a much longer list of things that should not be flushed or pushed down the drains:

    Wipes, even disposable and flushable wipes

    Bandages, wraps, sanitary products, condoms


    Cotton balls, cotton pads, cotton swabs

    Dental Floss


    Paper towels


    Coffee grounds, egg shells,  food

    Cat litter

    Fat, oils and grease


For more tips, read the “Guide to Sewer Backups” information brochure on



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