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What to do When Wipes Clog Pipes

In October 2018, the Plum Island Wastewater Treatment Plant in Charleston, South Carolina, had a nasty problem: thousands of pounds of baby wipes clogging a series of large pumps. Cleaning up the mess required the utility to install several bypass pumps to handle the normal flow. Then divers dropped 80-90 feet into the wet well and raw sewage to search for the obstruction. They came up with massive quantities of wipes, which took three days to clear out.

So-called “flushable” wipes have created problems for sewer systems worldwide. In a 2015 New York Times article, New York sewer officials said they had spent more than $18 million over five years removing them. Although they’re called “flushable,” there are no standards around that claim. Safe to say, anything that’s not human waste or toilet paper shouldn’t be flushed. But wipes are only one non-flushable that ends up in sewer systems: In Charleston, the divers also brought up a baseball and a large piece of metal.

If you’re fortunate, you work for a sewer system where rainwater is diverted and your wastewater treatment plant deals mostly with sewage. But in major cities with combined sewers, rainwater is stored in massive tunnels underground before it’s combined with municipal sewage. Those wastewater treatment plants must handle all the trash on the street as well as that in the sewer system.

How can you best manage trash in your collection system? Check out our tip sheet for five suggestions.

Review Download the "Managing Collection System Trash Tip Sheet" to learn some good ways to avoid situations like the one in Charleston. 


We hope this tip sheet will help you more effectively manage trash in your collection system. If you have questions, please contact a Sunbelt Rentals representative. We’re here to help.

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