Barry Orr, spokesperson for the Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group (MESUG) and sewer compliance officer for the City of London, ON, would like us all to understand that “toilets are not garbage cans.”

In a blog post for Water Canada, he says that material such as dental floss, diapers, candy wrappers, kitty litter, rubber gloves, pantyhose, toothbrushes and much more are being flushed down Canadian toilets every day.

The costs are huge. The 3,700 wastewater treatment systems across the nation budget an estimated $80,000 each per year for this type of nuisance. Some municipalities have reported spending $5,000 per incident. Capital costs for upgrading equipment add hundreds of thousands of dollar on top of these operating expenses.

MESUG members are sending letters to officials at municipal, provincial and federal levels outlining their concerns and asking for assistance with costs. They have also sent letters to manufacturers of so-called “flushable” products.

Clogs caused by  “flushable” wipes – pre-moistened personal wipes used for babies and billed as a more hygienic substitute for toilet paper – are draining Canadian taxpayers by as much as $250-million a year, according to 25 Federation of Canadian Municipalities members. The North American personal wipes industry is worth $6.7-billion and is expected to grow by six per cent annually over the next five years.

It is MESUG’s position that manufacturers need to provide the public with products that are safe to be used as directed and that are marked with proper disposal instructions. Manufacturers insist that they test flushability, but US and Canadian federal laws don’t require third-party assessment. The Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry has pledged to help with educating consumers on what can and cannot be flushed. Canadian municipalities and wastewater officials welcome a widespread public education campaign.

Janet Kimantas is associate editor at A\J with degrees in studio art and environmental studies. She is currently pursuing an MES at UWaterloo. She splits her spare time between walking in the forest and painting Renaissance-inspired portraits of birds.

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