Disposable wipes — used for changing diapers, personal hygiene, housecleaning, and more — cause major problems when flushed down toilets. Because they don’t break down the way toilet paper does, these wipes clog homeowner and municipal sewer pipes, put stress on community wastewater collection and treatment equipment, and cause cities to spend thousands on premature equipment repair and replacement. Wipes snag on any imperfection in sewer pipes, catch passing debris and grease, and create a “ball” that will grow to plug the pipe. They also get drawn into sewer-line and wastewater treatment plant pumps and clog and damage them. Municipalities must manually clear out pumps or remove clogs.
Although many brands of disposable wipes are labeled "flushable," don't flush them! The clogs and backups they cause may result in expensive plumbing bills for your home, or increased wastewater fees from your city.
The MPCA regulates many aspects of wastewater collection and treatment in Minnesota. Dealing with wipes-related problems has absorbed more and more city resources as wipes use increases, and clogs and equipment problems proliferate. The resources wastewater facilities expend on wipes could be better spent on systems to improve water quality. Put you wipes in the trash - it matters more than you realize!
Wipes vs. toilet paper
Wipes don't break down the way toilet paper does. Check out our video demonstration.
What wipes are costing Minnesota cities
MINNETONKA (pop. 48,370) — Starting in 2007, Tom Pletcher and his team with the City of Minnetonka’s sanitary sewer system have had to clear wipes from pumps every three days. Pletcher, the city’s water and sewer utilities field supervisor, says that wipes have been a major factor in all of Minnetonka’s sewer backups in the past five years and have contributed to early equipment failures. Clearing backups costs the city $1,000-$1,500 for each clog, and Minnetonka has 8-10 backups every year. Once or twice a year, clogs cause sewage to back up into homes. This, Pletcher says, is the worst: “How do you put a cost on filling someone’s basement with sewage?”
AVON (pop. 970) — Avon’s utilities team checks pumps in the town’s sewer system every day. When there is a wipes clog, they often have to use a crane to pull the pumps from 15 or 20 feet underground in order to clear them. In the past few years, the city has spent about $73,000 to upgrade lift station pumps. Avon’s utilities supervisor Jon Forsell says the older pumps were still functional, but not designed to handle wipes. In addition, the city spends almost $4,000 a year on labor to clear wipes out of pumps.
LEWISTON (pop. 1,591) — Lewiston was spending about $15,000 a year for a company to clear wipes clogs in its lift station pumps. Then the city bought a “Muffin Monster” — a machine that grinds up wipes before they get to pumps — for $70,000. “We wouldn’t have had to put it in if not for wipes,” says public works director Curt Benter. The average monthly sewer charge in Lewiston is $75.66.
ST. PETER (pop. 11,439) — The main station in St. Peter’s collection system has pumps that can handle six-inch solids. But balls of wipes coming through the system have clogged the pumps over and over. In the past five years, the city has spent about $100,000 on clearing clogs and repairing pumps after wipes gummed them up. The average monthly sewer charge for St. Peter residents is $70.80.
Photo: Wipes raked from a grate in a lift station (part of the sewer system) in Eagan.