While marketed as “flushable,” the cloth-like material of these products are gumming up equipment, costing money

Products touted as disposable or flushable are causing headaches for city sewer systems across the nation and Sleepy Eye is no exception.

According to Public Works Director Bob Elston, from a period between July 1 and Aug. 31, city employees pulled one set of lift station pumps 33 times, which is equivalent to about every other day, to clean material out of the pumps to un-clog them.

Elston credits this growing problem to an increase in the use of so-called "flushable wipes," a cloth-like material that doesn't break down like traditional toilet paper. When the flushable wipes leave your toilet, the wipes continue on their way to the sewer system, which can seriously gum up the works and cost cities big bucks to repair.

Elston added that this summer the city already replaced two pumps at a cost of $9,500.

"It's getting to be more and more of a problem," Elston said. "Consumers are being told by the packaging that these things are flushable." 

While products may be marketed as flushable, they may not actually be safe for the pipes under your home, Elston added.

"If these things get caught in your pipes, which are quite a bit smaller than the city sewer pipes, it can cause a clog and you can get sewer backed up into your basement," Elston explained. "Once it gets to a lift station, if it jams up the pumps and the pumps stop, then your whole neighborhood will back up." 

These products appeal to consumers because of manufacturers' claims that they can be conveniently flushed down the toilet. But their cloth-like material doesn't break down in the sanitary sewer system like toilet paper and can block sewer lines, clog equipment and increase the city's and/or homeowner's maintenance and repair costs.

"The only thing that should be flushed down the toilet is toilet paper," Elston said.

He added that while products like facial tissue (Kleenex), paper towels, disposable wipes and other material may make it through the toilet, thus making them in theory "flushable," they tend to clog up in the homeowners pipes below the house or in city sewer pipes and pumps causing costly repairs for the homeowner or the city.

"We aren't saying don't use them," Elston said. "Just throw them in the trash can instead of the toilet. We know people assume once it leaves the bowl and doesn't clog the toilet it is gone forever and all is well. Unfortunately this is not the case. If it's not toilet paper please don't flush it.

For a video showing the effects of several different products on the market and how they break down or not, visit the Minnesota Rural Water website at www.mrwa.com and scroll down to the right hand side of the page to the link "Will it Flush? video on wastewater clogging."