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Carolina Conscience: What goes down YOUR drain?

Charleston Water System raises awareness on how Carolinians can help keep money in their wallets while protecting the environment.

After a massive backup at the Plum Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, Charleston Water System (CWS) sent divers over 80ft deep into the complete darkness of raw sewage to inspect and resolve the issue. The divers returned with large mounds of wet wipes. Crews worked around the clock for days to remove the wipes. The slideshow below features photos shared on the CWS twitter page @ChasWaterSystem

#1, #2, and toilet paper are the only things that should be flushed!

Flushing other products, materials, and chemicals can cause clogging and expensive repair to wastewater treatment plants and households.

Things You Should Never Flush Or Put Down The Drain

Calling a plumbing expert to take a look at your toilet or drain because they have been clogged can be embarrassing and expensive. It may seem like common sense, but this is a topic that is often taken for granted.

Items like Kleenex, paper towels, and tissue paper, for example, should not ever be flushed. Unlike toilet paper, they take a lot longer to break down in the sewer system and cause blockages.

It can be tempting to just spin everything down the drain after cooking, especially after a large meal when a big pile of plates and pieces of leftover food accumulate. However, what we pour down the drain can cause issues in the long run for our household pipes and septic systems. This would be of detriment to water ecosystems and their inhabitants too. While water treatment facilities work hard to remove contaminants a lot of these chemicals and substances still end up in the oceans, rivers, and lakes.

Cost To Fix A Clogged Drain

Flushing things down the drain at home can lead to costly repairs. Replacing a sewage pump can cost around $500 on average. Unclogging pipes within the house can cost up to $200.

If the main sewer line were to get blocked, then sewage would come back into the house. Pouring household chemicals down the drain can lead to weakening the main sewage line. This can result in a smell like rotten eggs coming from the drain openings. The cost to fix this issue can be anywhere from $1,000 up to $7,000.

The public water systems could also be severely damaged from things that should not go down the drain. Flushable wet wipes are a key example. There are reports all over the country of costly efforts to remove gigantic lumps that weigh tons, because the wipes don’t break apart and can combine with sewage that form into massive lumps. Costs to remove these flushable wipe blockages can get up to over $500,000. Related maintenance cost is estimated to be in the billions around the world.

Environmental Impact Of Chemicals In Household Items

A few common cleaning chemicals are often found in waterways:

  • Nitrogen - often found in glass, surface, and floor cleaners.

  • Ammonia - is in many cleaning products, sanitizers, and degreasers.

  • Phosphorus - can be found in up to 40% of all dishwasher detergents.

If these chemicals are not removed by water treatment processes, they end up in the water supply and can cause the water to be unsafe to drink. These chemicals can have harmful effects on plants, wildlife and aquatic species. There are some household chemicals that can be flushed down the drain with lots of water. Save all other household chemicals in gallon jugs and old bottles from drinks. You can contact your local water treatment plant to find out which chemicals can go down the drain safely. (Need help finding your local water treatment plant? Give us a call or send an email.)

Xavier Boatright - Waterfront Park Chaleston, SC - October 2018

Non-Chemical ItemsFlushing wet wipes is harmful to the environment. Many brands are made up of synthetic plastic fibers. If these type wet wipes make it to neighboring waterways, they could end up breaking down into microplastics. Microplastics have been a part of the vastly growing problem of garbage swirling in the oceans and ending up in the digestive systems of marine life.

Misleading Labeling

Leading wet wipe brands voluntarily say they are “flushable”, but that has proved to be untrue. These wet wipes are not tested by public waterworks agencies and sewerage companies that actually deal with the aftermath of wet wipes. Most sewer systems are built to process just toilet paper and human waste with no exceptions.


Medications are frequently overlooked, but should NEVER be flushed. Pills that have expired are often put down the drain. Trace amounts of pills have ended up in the drinking water supplies across the country. Many pharmacies will accept and dispose of prescriptions, over the counter ointments and creams, liquids, lotions, pet medications, prescription patches, over-the-counter medications and vitamins.

Kitchen Waste

Find local recycling facilities where you can take your kitchen waste to for recycling, as grease and oil from the kitchen can be converted into biofuels to create energy. The temporary option is to pour the grease and oils into sealed containers like an old coffee container or milk jug until it can be recycled.

Reducing Usage

There are lots of things that can be done. Using rags, towels, and other reusable products is a great way to reduce overall usage of disposable paper and plastic products. Purchasing household cleaning supplies made with enzymes, oxygen, and citrus, which are all environmentally friendly. Utilize a metal snake instead of using chemical solutions to unclog a drain.

Reminder: Flush Only #1, #2, And Toilet Paper

Anything else will eventually do damage to your property’s plumbing, the city’s water treatment system, and the environment. Be mindful of the misleading labeling of products as “flushable” and take the extra time to properly dispose of hazardous chemicals and kitchen wastes. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) has a helpful list of local recycling facilities across the state including what can be recycled and who to contact at each location on their RecycleHereSC page.

All Aboard For Justice!

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