In Oklahoma City along, we flush, wash and drain around 110 million gallons of water every day. All that waste water has to be treated before it can be returned to the environment, but we found out some bad bathroom habits could be costing you and the city big bucks.
At the city's waste water treatment facility in southwest Oklahoma City, the project manager took us on a tour of how waste water gets brought in and treated. The process begins with the "bar screens." The screens capture large debris. The facility refers to much of that debris as "rags." The rags can be anything from paper towels to baby wipes to other so-called "flushable" wipes.
"Frankly the rate payer is paying twice when they use those wipes they're paying for them initially and they're paying for them in their rates," said Pat Corbett the OKC project manager for the city's waste water treatment facilities.
The "rags" can sometimes miss the bar screen process and end up jamming up pumps used to transfer waste water for further treatment. Corbett said just dumping the hoppers that collect the debris costs the city $5,000 a year.
"We've seen clumps of rags as big as 55 gallon drums that do accumulate over time in these reactors," Corbett told Fox 25, "And I've heard reports of upwards the size of a Volkswagen."
The "rag" problem isn't necessarily just the wipes themselves. Corbett said they get hung up in other clumps of fats, oils and grease. The grease can act as glue that binds even ‘flushable' material together.
"Our job would be made easier if we did the very best we could to keep foreign material out of the sewer system," Corbett said.
One of the largest makers of "flushable" wipes is the Kimberly Clark Corporation. In a video statement provided by the company R & E Director Christine Cowell said "Flushability has been all over the news lately it's really been an issue that's causing problems with waste water treatment facilities. Kimberly Clark produces products that are to be used in the bathroom and flushed after use and we really need to make sure that our products are doing what they're supposed to after they enter those system."
The makers of ‘flushable' wipes say they follow guidelines set forth by INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. The president of INDA says the association has worked to put forth better guidelines for labeling of flushable and non-flushable products.
Kimberly Clark says it's flushable wipes have gone through new innovations that allow them to break up faster and put them through ‘real-world tests' to ensure they will not harm waste water treatment facilities.
"We know that consumers want to feel cleaner and fresher than with toilet paper alone but they don't want to be concerned with whether a products going to cause problems in their plumbing or in the environment," Cowell said."
INDA said its tests show that of the debris collected during the initial intake at treatment facilities only about ten percent of it is composed of products marketed as ‘flushable.' INDA says the majority of debris is comprised of paper towels, feminine hygiene products and baby wipes.
The city of Oklahoma City says people should not use their toilets or garbage disposals as trash cans. Anything dumped into the sewer system can arrive at a treatment facility in as little as 30 minutes. Most flushable wipes do not begin breaking down until about 30 minutes after flushing and can take up to three hours to fully break apart.
The city says people need to be aware that flushable products do not disintegrate as well as toilet paper and can still contribute to clogs.
The city also says the following items should never be flushed: baby wipes, moist wipes, Swiffer products, Toilet bowl scrub pads, paper towels, napkins, cotton swabs, cotton pads, tissues, plastic wrappers, band aids, personal hygiene products, dental floss, cigarettes and medications.