Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Don't Rush to Flush #Unblocktober

A white toilet within a red No Entry style circle, with the words 'don't rush to flush #Unblocktober' underneathIt's #Unblocktober! I'm really pleased this is a thing, because it needs to be a thing. Fatbergs are gross and destructive, costing taxpayers a lot of money and many of the unflushables that are flushed down the nation's toilets cause enormous harm to our environment. Whilst researching this post, I discovered a lot I didn't know about what you shouldn't flush and I thought it might surprise you too, so here's a post all about responsible flushing and how you can make #Unblocktober a success. To join the conversation and for more information, including a downloadable resource pack, head over to the Unblocktober website. 

The first, and hopefully most obvious, item you should not flush is any kind of fat or oil. Even oils that are liquid when you pour them down can solidify once they reach the sewer, because the conditions underground are much different to those in our homes. Many local waste facilities now accept cooking oil for recycling, and it is turned into biofuel. My local council uses ours to power our buses. Another option, if it's the kind of oil that solidifies once it's cool, is to use it to make fat balls, or birdcake to feed the birds. Even small amounts of oil, which you may not even think about, can build up to epic proportions when it gathers underground. For example, giving your pans a quick wipe with some kitchen roll before stacking them in the dishwasher can protect the environment, as well as your own pipes from unwanted clogs. The biggest fatberg so far uncovered in the UK was discovered in 2017  under the streets of Whitechapel, east London and measured a whopping 250 metres long! The process for removing a fatberg is expensive, difficult and really disgusting for the workers involved. Here in the UK, around £100m a year is spent removing up to 300,000 fatbergs from our sewers and the same situation is occurring all over the world. This video shows the size of the Whitechapel monster fatberg and tells you a little of the process of removing it.

 As you will see from the video, another major contributor to fatbergs are wet wipes. These are no longer limited to baby wipes, these days you can buy wipes for anything, from cleaning windows to removing make up and they provide a tempting level of convenience for consumers. What a lot of people don't realise though, is that wet wipes usually contain fragments of plastic that make them stronger and these are not biodegradable and can end up in our rivers and seas and even inside the fish we eat. The worst part is, even the wipes you buy that say 'Flushable' on them aren't actually flushable. They will physically flush down, but they will not biodegrade in the same way that toilet paper does. This means that, long after they've left your loo, they will still be perfectly intact and will be winging their way to congeal with other similar products and all that fat and oil we talked about earlier. Yuck. If you can find reusable alternatives to disposable wipes, this is definitely the best option for the environment, but if you are reliant on them, look for wipes that display the Fine to Flush logo, which has been developed by water firms to provide a genuinely flushable alternative to standard wipes. Below are some alternatives to disposable wipes:

  • Reusable Make Up Wipes. These are available in high street shops, as well as from independent sellers on websites such as Etsy. They retail from about £8 for ten, or if you're a little bit creative, you could make your own!
  • Microfibre Cloths are not the most environmentally friendly product available, because they are synthetic and may shed plastic fibres into the water system when washed. You can counter this however, with the Guppy Friend Washing Bag, which captures the fibres, so you can dispose of them more appropriately. What they do give you, though, is a viable alternative to cleaning wipes, because they work really well with the smallest amount of water, making cleaning tasks almost as easy as using disposable wipes, but without the huge strain on the environment. They also last for ages, I've had mine for ten years and they are still going strong!
  • For baby wipes, there are some great alternatives, such as Tots Bots printed reusable wipes. They are made from bamboo and are super soft and gentle on little bums. They also come with a storage bag for dirty wipes. They don't contain any nasties, such as chlorine or parabens which is always good news! 

Wipes and fats are always the most visible components of any fatberg, but it doesn't pay to ignore the smaller contributors too. One cotton bud, or a couple of lengths of dental floss might not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but if everyone decided to toss the occasional cotton bud down the loo, because it's nearer, or saves emptying the bin, suddenly that's a lot of cotton buds in our water system. These are both really good examples of items that don't look like they contain plastic. Lots of items can contain hidden plastic which prevents them from biodegrading. Other examples include tea bags, tampons and chewing gum. For more information on surprising items that contain plastic, head over to the Friends of the Earth website. Preventing fatbergs and other water pollution is definitely one of those situations where every little helps. If as many of us as possible make a few small changes, we can make a big difference and improve our own environment as well as the planet's, whilst also saving money too!


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