In response to concerns expressed by Minnesota communities, the MPCA developed this toolkit to help communicate with residents about not flushing disposable wipes. All toolkit elements may be used freely and customized to your needs. While this toolkit focuses on disposable wipes, the strategies can apply to pharmaceuticals and anything else that shouldn't be flushed.
A few communication basics
Know your audience
- If trying to reach senior citizens, use more traditional media such as newspapers.
- If trying to reach young people and families, use social media and other newer channels.
- One survey says 51% of men use wipes, so think about how to reach them (e.g., posters in locker rooms)
- If you want to reach facilities that are heavy wipes users, such as group homes or nursing homes, small posters or magnets (see printed materials below) that they can put up around the facility might be a good choice.
No silver bullet — you need to use multiple communication channels, more than once
No single message or communication vehicle will work all alone. Any one message will only reach so many people, and folks need to see a message several times before it sinks in. That's why TV commercials repeat and repeat until we are humming the jingles without realizing it! Be sure to put your message out there multiple times, in various places, to be effective.
Example: You decide to set up a booth on disposable wipes at the county fair to encourage people to stop flushing them. In addition to the booth (exhibit ideas below), you should promote your presence at the fair. In the two weeks before the fair, think about: Placing an article in the local newspaper, posting messages on city social media sites, placing an ad in the city newsletter, and running one of the MPCA's video PSAs (see below) on the city cable access channel.
What are your key messages?
To get people to change their behavior, you want to be clear about what you're asking for and tell them why it will benefit them. That will probably include these talking points:
- Wipes may be labeled "flushable," but they don't degrade in the system. Flushing them is like flushing a handkerchief or other item made of cloth.
- Our sewer systems and treatment plants were not designed to handle wipes. They gum up the system, clog pipes and pumps, and cost taxpayers and residents lots of money in additional maintenance costs.
- If you must use wipes, put them in the trash, not the toilet!
- Many homeowners have experienced plumbing problems because of wipes, so you may have expensive maintenance issues at home if you flush them.
What channels do you have to spread your message?
Think about the communication opportunities in your organization, your local government, and your larger community. Which ones are available to educate people about wipes? Make a list:
- City or public works Facebook and Twitter pages or other social media
- City or facility web sites
- City or public works newsletters
- Local cable access channels
- Local newspapers, shoppers, or radio stations
- Local events, such as fairs, home shows, environmental expos, etc.
- Presentations to schools, civic organizations, church groups, etc.
Make a plan to contact as many as possible with the tools offered below.
- Video public service announcements
The MPCA created two short videos to show how wipes don't break down in water, and to reiterate the "Don't flush your wipes!" message.
Use the videos to spread your message by:
- Linking to them from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media
- Putting them on your facility's or your city's web sites
- Asking your community's cable access channels to run them
- Include them in presentations to service clubs, schools, city councils, etc.
- Running them on a video screen or laptop when setting up a booth at fairs, expos and events
Video 1: Wipes clog pipes demonstration
Video 2: What not to flush (60-second version)
Video 2: What not to flush (30-second)
- News articles and printed materials
News media outreach
Use the news media to broadcast the problems with disposable wipes. Send a news release to newspapers and radio and TV stations in your area. Submit articles for city or community newsletters. Use the template below; download the Word doc, insert your name and contact information, and customize with local information as shown in the document. Be sure to include a photo of the wipes problem in your community — it's a sure-fire attention-getter. The grosser, the better! Include caption information so they know exactly what they're looking at.
- If using as a news release, email to news outlets like newspapers, radio stations and TV stations. Reporters may contact you for an interview, so be prepared for that with local examples of problems with wipes, the cost to taxpayers in your community, and a clear appeal to residents to stop flushing wipes. Using the phrase "Wipes Clog Pipes" will tie your message to other communication you've done on social media, posters, etc.
- If you submit the piece for a newsletter or website, talk to the person in charge to make publishing arrangements (and delete the "broadcast version" at the bottom before sending).
Need a poster, door hangers, or a print ad? Download the Word docs linked below, insert your city’s logo and web address where indicated, and change the text if you like.
- Photos and graphics
Use the photos and graphics linked below for your web sites, news releases, newsletter articles, advertising, and anywhere else they can be useful.
Photos: The MPCA has collected a few wipes-related photos on its Flickr site. The public is free to download and use the images, if they credit the agency.
Graphics: Right-click on the images below and save to your hard drive or network.
[image: Wipes clog pipes - horizontal (wipesclogpipeshoriz.jpg)]
[Image: Wipes clog pipes - vertical (wipesclogpipesvert.jpg)]
- Social media
If your facility or city is on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media, you can use them to get the word out about not flushing wipes. Here are some ideas for posting that should get some attention.
You can link to a variety of informational resources:
- The MPCA web page for citizens, "Don't flush your disposable wipes"
- One of the MPCA videos above or to the videos listed under "Resources" below
- News stories that explain the problems caused by flushing wipes — Several recent Minnesota news stories are listed below under "Resources." You can also find stories in several national news outlets, like the New York Times, CBS News, WGN, Washington Post, New York magazine, AARP, and USA Today.
Add a message of your own to posts with links. For instance:
- "Flushable" wipes don't break down — they clog sewer pipes and equipment. Put them in the trash! #WipesClogPipes
- Sewer systems and treatment plants were not designed to handle disposable wipes. Don't flush them! #WipesClogPipes
- If you must use wipes, put them in the trash, not the toilet! #WipesClogPipes
- Disposable wipes clog both home plumbing and your community sewer system. Don't flush them! #WipesClogPipes
You could also post photos you've taken of pumps being cleared out or other wipes-related problems in your system. In our experience, the grossest pictures get the most attention on social media! If you don't have photos of your own, see the MPCA Flickr site. You are free to download and use any of our images.
Tag your posts about wipes with the #WipesClogPipes hashtag. That will connect you to other people using the same hashtag and possibly draw viewers to your posts.
County fairs, environmental expos, home shows, or other community events may offer opportunities for you to set up a table or booth and talk to folks about the problems with wipes. Demonstrations can draw people in and help you get your message across. Try this:
Wipes vs. toilet paper: Which breaks down first?
Lots of people think that because wipes are labeled "flushable," they break down when flushed. You can demonstrate that wipes don't break down, like we do in the video posted above, or in the one from the Water Environment Federation linked under "Resources" below. Here's how:
- Set up a table with a colorful tablecloth
- Put two or three clear magnetic agitators filled with water on the table. If you don’t have agitators available, use two or three clear containers.
- Ask people passing by to put a wipe in the first agitator, toilet paper in the second, and facial tissue or something else in the third and guess how long it will take them to break down. Kids will love this!
- Make a poster to explain the display and place it on an easel or hang it above the table.
- Give away magnets with “Wipes Clog Pipes” on them (see printed materials above).
We created a template for a large poster that you could exhibit at events that shows what happens when wipes reach lift stations and treatment plants. You can customize the poster with your city logo and website. Or you could create your own poster (posters are usually 30 by 40 inches). It could include:
- Close-up photo of “flushable” on a wipes label
- A larger photo of a local problem with wipes
- Text like “Define Flushable?”
Print on plotter or at store like Staples. Set up your poster on an easel or hang it in your booth and use it to engage attendees in conversation.
Follow our instructions below and make yourself a wipes mascot! It could be a fun and engaging option, especially if you will be presenting at a school. It will certainly get people's attention!
With a video screen or even just a laptop, you can show attendees the MPCA's short videos linked above or the videos listed under "Resources" below. Some of them are funny and eye-catching. They can help you get your message across succinctly.
- The Clog mascot
This mascot will grab attention at events like county fairs and school presentations. You can quickly make one using readily available materials!
- 6-8 packages of different size wipes
- The cheapest coffee you can buy
- Brown watercolor paint
- A pair of disposable coveralls (found at Home Depot or Menards)
- A glue gun and several glue sticks
- A big plastic container or a large sink with stopper
- Cardboard, preferably white
Instructions: Mix a small can of coffee grounds with two tea pots full of hot water in a large container or sink (no need to strain out the grounds). Dip or soak the wipes in the coffee to make them brown. Hang or lay out the wipes to dry overnight. Heat up your glue gun (the cheaper, low-heat variety works best for this). Put the coveralls on a hanger and hang them up on a hook against a wall or other flat surface. Put a small amount of glue on each wipe and press onto the coveralls to adhere. Cover the whole surface with wipes and let dry. Use watercolor paint to add more brown streaks to the wipes on the suit.
To make the toilet seat collar/sign: Google "toilet seat template" and use it to cut out toilet lid and toilet seat shapes from cardboard. Use tape to connect and make a "hinge" for the lid and seat. You can then put the "Wipes Clog Pipes" graphic on the lid, make a design with the name of your character, include a web address for more information, or create whatever message you like. You could print your designs onto stickers and apply them to the cardboard, or draw them on with a marker.
We chose to call our mascot "The Clog," but feel free to rename it. Some other ideas we came up with: Donny Don't Flush, Cletus the Clog, Wipezilla, Clem Clogger, Soggy McCloggy, and Count Clogula. Have fun!
Communities across the country and elsewhere are trying to get the word out about the problems with flushing wipes. Find more information and ideas on wipes communications in this collection of campaigns, videos and news articles.
- National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) “Toilets are not Trashcans” campaign.
- Patty Potty website from the Save Water Texas Coalition.
- Protect Your Pipes campaign from Washinton, D.C.
- Clean Water Services (Oregon) has a simple “Wipes Clogs Pipes” bathroom sign.
- The TruTV show “Adam Ruins Everything,” in which “host Adam Conover employs a combination of comedy, history and science to dispel widespread misconceptions about everything we take for granted” did a segment on wipes.
- The Save Water Texas Coalition’s Patty Potty character has a message: No wipes in the pipes!
- The Maine Department of Environmental Protection made a game-show themed video called Save your pipes: Don’t flush baby wipes.
- United Utilities in England made Can’t Flush This!, a funny video about what happens when “flushing the wrong things down the loo.”
- The city of Keene, N.H., worked with local high school students to create a public service announcement, Don't Flush That.
- The singing Sewermen of Thames Water in London make holiday-themed videos on avoiding disposal of fats, oil, grease, and wipes.
- Consumer Reports made a short video that shows how quickly toilet paper breaks down, and that wipes do not.
- The Water Environment Federation and the City of Spokane Wastewater Department created a video showing how quickly various types of wipes, facial tissue, and toilet paper break down.
Minnesota and national news stories
- Reminder to residents to only flush toilet paper – Rochester Post-Bulletin (3/18/2020)
- Save our sewers: Experts say don’t flush wipes – Houston Chronicle (3/18/2020)
- Are flushable wipes really flushable – Today Show (9/17/2019)
- Minnesota gross: Don’t pour that fat down the drain – Minnesota Public Radio (11/19/2018)
- What happens after you flush? The work never stops at St. Paul plant — Star Tribune (12/24/2015)
- ‘Flushable’ wipes causing clogs throughout the metro area — KSTP-TV, 7/7/2015
- 'Flushable' wipes can cost thousands to fix clogged pipes — Star Tribune (4/6/2015)
- Disposable, flushable wipes wreaking havoc in Wadena sewers — Brainerd Dispatch (3/27/2015)