PSA: Don’t put those baby wipes in your toilet

The city is urging residents to only flush toilet paper, everything else needs to be safely disposed of in the trash

CLARK COUNTY — If you are one of the unfortunate souls who has been unable to find toilet paper in Clark County stores, you may be settling for some unsettling alternatives.

A look at what should and shouldn’t be flushed down your toilet. Anything other than actual toilet paper needs to be put in a plastic bag and thrown in the trash. Photo by Chris Brown
A look at what should and shouldn’t be flushed down your toilet. Anything other than actual toilet paper needs to be put in a plastic bag and thrown in the trash. Photo by Chris Brown

Whether it’s a baby wipe, facial tissue, paper towel, or even wipes that claim to be flushable, area sewage treatment experts have a request of you.

Please don’t flush it down the toilet.

“They just really don’t break down in our sewer system or in the wastewater treatment process,” says Frank Dick, a wastewater engineer with the city of Vancouver, “and they can cause problems throughout the network at the wastewater treatment plant.”

Those problems can extend from blockages in the line that connects your house to the sewage pipes along your street, to blocking pumps along the way, or even creating those infamous “fatbergs” — disgusting balls of fat, hair, human waste, and things that shouldn’t be flushed.

This is a clog made up of debris flushed down people’s toilets, like tissues, flushable wipes, baby wipes, and other items. Photo courtesy Clark Regional Wastewater District
This is a clog made up of debris flushed down people’s toilets, like tissues, flushable wipes, baby wipes, and other items. Photo courtesy Clark Regional Wastewater District

Toilet paper is specially designed to quickly break down in sewer and septic systems, because the fibers used in it don’t bind together. Other products, including flushable wipes, hold together much longer.

Even if they make their way through the sewer system without creating problems, they can often end up binding to screens and filters at the wastewater treatment plant. All of which need to be removed by human beings.

“I think people should be mindful of their sewer systems,” says Dick, “and the people that work every day out in the sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants, and encounter this material that they pretty much have to use manual methods to unclog pumps or clear off screens.”

By the way, if you end up with a blockage in the pipe connecting your home to the street, it is your responsibility to repair at your own expense.

These items were part of a 100-pound clog pulled out of the Glenwood pump station. The most common items, other than paper products, were hairballs. The crew also found toys, dental floss, toothpicks, wipes, latex products, pens, straws, candy wrappers, various trash items, cloth rags, and balloons. Photo courtesy Clark Regional Wastewater District
These items were part of a 100-pound clog pulled out of the Glenwood pump station. The most common items, other than paper products, were hairballs. The crew also found toys, dental floss, toothpicks, wipes, latex products, pens, straws, candy wrappers, various trash items, cloth rags, and balloons. Photo courtesy Clark Regional Wastewater District

So what should you do with those used baby wipes, tissues, paper towels, or whatever other item you’ve resorted to in the absence of actual toilet paper?

Put it in a trash bag, seal it up well, and dispose of it safely in your normal trash.

If you’re looking for more information on what you shouldn’t be putting down your drain, check out this page from the Clark Regional Wastewater District.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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