FAQ: Beware of the Unflushables!

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues, toilet roll remains in short supply. But whether you’ve stockpiled, are constantly in search of more to build up your supplies, or are opting for alternatives to tide you over, what we flush down the toilet can have an impact on our sewage systems and marine environment as a result, and it’s not pretty! Here Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas, gives you the lowdown on what you should and shouldn’t be flushing…

Q: What are the best alternatives to toilet roll if I can’t find any?

A: If you can’t find toilet roll, then remember tissue paper and kitchen roll aren’t designed to be flushed. Flushing these ‘unflushables’ may leave you with a blocked toilet - definitely not something you want while isolating at home! For those looking to cut back on single use products, it’s also worth looking into toilet towels; perhaps a step too far for some, but they have been shown to be a hygienic and earth friendly alternative.

wet wipes

Q: Can I flush wet wipes?

A: Assume you can’t by default, unless you can see the industry approved ‘Fine to Flush’ logo which is specifically designed to test wet wipes against the conditions of UK sewers to ensure they degrade without harming the environment. If you can’t see the logo, then you need to bin the wipes. It might be worth getting a bin for your bathroom if you don’t already have one.

Q: What about biodegradable wipes?

A: Just because it’s biodegradable (and there is no clear definition of this), it doesn’t mean that the wipe is going to be suitable for the pipes in your home or in the sewer itself. The term ‘biodegradable’ doesn’t indicate how the wipe will break up in the sewer system - waste water from our houses typically takes no more than a few hours - biodegradability is usually tested over days and then only under certain conditions (certainly not those found in sewers!)

Fine to Flush Logo

Q: What can I flush?

A: It’s often safest for your sewers to stick to the ‘three P’s’: pee, poo and paper. Assume you can’t flush wipes if you don’t see the Fine to Flush logo.

Q: Why does it matter to MCS?

A: Unfortunately, wrongly flushed items block our sewers which means that the system doesn’t run smoothly. In a worst case scenario, this can mean emergency discharges into the rivers and seas. This results in untreated water and waste entering the marine environment. Alongside decreasing bathing water quality, this can also be harmful to marine life. At the 2019 Great British Beach Clean, an average of 33 items of ‘sewage-related debris’ were found for every 100m of UK beach. An average of 19 wet wipes were found for every 100m of beach and sewage-related debris made up 5% of the total litter found on the UK’s beaches. Sewage-related debris can be anything from plastic cotton bud sticks wrongly flushed down the toilet, to wet wipes which haven’t broken down in the sewage system. No matter where you’re flushing, your actions still affect the sea!