A unique collaboration between an industry association, a water district, and a nonprofit has Maine answering a national and international problem – the flushing of baby wipes.
Treatment operators routinely tell the Maine Department of Environmental Protection that with the sales of wipes and new products growing exponentially, consumers can be confused by which ones can be flushed or not, leading to clogs. These clogs cost time and money for homeowners with septic systems and for taxpayers who pay for public sewer systems. Operators must divert resources from system maintenance and upgrades and instead unclog pumps caused by the flushing of baby wipes. Even when pumps and equipment clog with materials not designed to be flushed and can no longer function, it does not mean sewage stops.
Clogs contribute to sewer backups into homes, clogging of wastewater system equipment, difficulty maintaining septic systems, and sewer overflows that have negative impacts on the environment. Overflows flood pump stations and surge into our waterways. Sewer overflows can be a danger to public health and can also harm Maine’s critical fish and shellfish, tourism, and recreation industries. Reducing clogs caused by the flushing of baby wipes can mean reducing harmful overflows and better protecting Maine’s water bodies.
In January, the Maine Water Environmental Association (MeWEA), the Portland Water District (PWD), and INDA, the association of non-woven fabrics, kicked off the “Save Your Pipes: Don’t Flush Baby Wipes” educational campaign. With the majority of the financial support coming from the industry, the three partners have created two unique “What the Flush” televisions ads to encourage consumers to throw away baby wipes rather than flush them. Even a local grocery store, Hannaford, joined the effort and displayed “Save Your Pipes” promotional signs in the baby wipes aisle.
Results to Date:
Before the commercials aired, the group met each week at PWD and sorted through all of the material that came through the pipes. They identified the type of wipe – personal, baby, etc. and the manufacturer. The group continued to measure the amount of baby wipes flushed through the airing of the commercials and for three months after they stopped. Initial survey results showed a 50% reduction in baby wipes found in the wastewater systems.
This campaign resulted in the reduction of flushed baby wipes and translates to less time, money, and energy spent cleaning up clogs. MeWEA, PWD, and INDA deserve recognition for coming together to find a creative solution to a national problem.
Maine Department of Environmental Protection