It’s so easy. All you have to do is flick a handle or push a button and a few seconds later the toilet empties and carries everything away – out of sight, out of mind.
Until our basement floods with sewage backup.
Or we get our utility bill and notice that water rates have skyrocketed. Or we no longer have easy access to clean drinking water. Because just like tossing out the trash, there really is no ‘away’ when it comes to what we flush. And it turns out, we are flushing all wrong.
Can You Flush Tampons? Plus Other Questions About Our Flushing Habits
I spoke with the folks from the I Don’t Flush Campaign to get the low-down on why it matters what we flush – not just to the environment, but to us directly as well.
Why should we care about what we flush?
Using our toilets and wastewater infrastructure properly minimizes potential pollution to our lakes and rivers, and the harm it causes to wildlife and water-living creatures who depend on clean water to survive.
As well, Canadians are shelling out $250 million a year to clean our waters and remove everyday items that people are flushing.
This exorbitant expense could be easily avoided if people took into account the damage that flushing items like wet wipes, cotton swabs, feminine hygiene products, condoms, pharmaceuticals, and so on, has on our treatment facilities and lakes and rivers.
Aren't there treatment systems in place to make sure that sewage is safe?
Yes, our treatment systems do an excellent job of dealing with organic waste and ensuring the water they treat meets the strictest environmental regulations.
Yet when we flush items we shouldn’t, this puts a strain on the equipment and makes it harder for our wastewater systems to do their job. This can result in backups in our homes, clogs in sewers and occasionally cause overflows into our lakes and rivers.
What happens when we flush items like wet wipes, dental floss, tampon applicators, Q-tips, etc. that might surprise people?
One thing people may not know is that these items don’t break down and can cause clogs in pipes and pumps that are costly to repair, and occasionally lead to backups in our home and overflow to our lakes and rivers.
Wet wipes are particularly damaging due to their increase in popularity.
What about items labeled “flushable”? Why can that label be used if the items shouldn't be flushed?
Right now there is no industry standard for what constitutes flushable, but just because an item CAN be flushed, doesn’t mean it should be. Our toilets shouldn’t be treated as garbage cans.
Our wastewater systems were designed to treat number one, number two and toilet paper. End of list.
Why shouldn't I flush things like pharmaceuticals and liquid waste? Doesn't it just get diluted in all the water downstream?
The only things that should ever be flushed are number one, number two and toilet paper. Flushing tampons isn't on the short list.
Every time we flush items that are not meant to go through our system, we run the risk of them polluting our lakes and rivers – we are always downstream of someone else.
Pharmaceuticals should always be brought back to the pharmacy where they can be disposed of properly. If we all do our part in helping dispose of things where they belong, we’ll be helping contribute to a cleaner environment.
Research shows that household toilet use has an impact on our environment and wastewater systems. The I Don’t Flush campaign was created to raise awareness and influence positive everyday actions that help to keep our lakes and rivers clean and healthy.