Disposable wipes in sewer systems: Technical analysis of wipes available on the Spanish market. Can they be simply flushed down the toilet?

Disposable wipes, along with other solid and liquid waste in our sewer systems, can cause clogging, potentially giving rise to pipe breakage, an abundance of wastewater in urban aquifers, foul odours in urban areas, putrefaction in water networks and pumping stations, and damage to pumping units in networks and WWTPS (Figure 1). The cost associated with this problem in Spain is estimated at €4-6 per person per annum (€200 M/annum).

We sewer system managers do not understand the logic of waiting for solid product (disposable wipes) to be converted into a pseudo-liquid product (more or less disintegrated disposable wipes) in the sewer network, which, once it has reached the WWTP, must again be converted into a solid for separation from the waste water in the form of WWTP sludge.

This problem, brought to light in Spain in 2009 by the Working Group for Inspection and Discharges of the Laboratory of Commission V of the AEAS (Spanish Association of Water Supply and Sanitation Services), is a cause for concern at international level. As a result, an international initiative has been undertaken to establish the position of the sector with respect to the characteristics of products that are suitable and unsuitable for disposal in the toilet.

FCC Aqualia central, Inodoro

The aim of this international initiative (endorsed by practically all sewer system managers in Spain, and over 300 associations and managers from a score of countries) is to prevent the economic and environmental problems caused by clogging and damage to equipment in the sewer system and in WWTPs.

The AEAS, in conjunction with the OCU (Spanish consumer and user organisation), have carried out a study on 21 of the most commonly used commercial disposable wipes in Spain, to examine their suitability or otherwise for disposal in toilets. The following is a summary of this study.

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Published in: FuturENVIRO #41 June 2017