America’s Obsession With Wipes Is Tearing Up Sewer Systems
Even before the pandemic, Americans were already flushing far too many wipes into the sewer system. After a year of staying at home, the pipe-clogging problem has gotten worse.
Just ask Larry Hare, who says he immediately observed the change from his vantage point as the manager at a wastewater reclamation facility in Des Moines, Iowa.
Sewer backups are up 50%, and he attributes this to the flushing of wipes, which don’t break down in water like toilet paper. “We’ve always had the problem, but it just hasn’t been as big a problem as it is currently,” Hare said.
With consumers cleaning everything from counters to doorknobs in hopes of thwarting the coronavirus, sanitary wipes are more popular than ever. In the 12 months through late January, their sales surged 75%, according to data from Nielsen. But the blockages they create when flushed — dubbed fatbergs — have become a costly headache. The Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority has spent more than $100,000 over the past year and deployed specialized block-clearing trucks about 30 times, according to Hare. Similar problems are plaguing cities and towns across the U.S., and they’re being forced to spend more and more on fixing the problem.