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Think before your flush: 8 things not to flush down the drain

Have you ever heard of a fatberg? These sewer blocking masses of congealed fat, wet wipes and food waste are becoming a serious problem for Australia’s waste water treatment plants, and they are costing the government millions to remove them.

In Brisbane last year, Queensland Urban Utilities reported that it removed 360 fatbergs from the sewers over 12 months, that’s nearly one a day! And in Sydney’s Malabar Water Treatment Facility they have been removing about six tonnes of wipes in the plant each day, along with all sorts of other 'non-flushables'.

You might think these fatbergs can only be found deep underground in the sewers, but really they can form in any drainage pipe - including the ones in your property. So to help you avoid a nasty blocked pipe or clogged up drain, here our guide on what not to flush!

What not to pour down the sink

Think again before you pour these down the drain or wash them down the kitchen sink:

Cooking oils, grease and fats

When you pour hot oils and grease down the drain they cool quickly and congeal in the pipes. They mix with the other ‘non-flushables’ and create a solid mass in the sewers. So when it comes to disposing of cooking oil and fat, here’s what you should do instead:

  • Wait until the fat has cooled and scrape into the bin
  • Wipe greasy pans before washing to get off the excess
  • Save excess oil in a container and contact your local council to find out how to recycle it

Food scraps

Along with cooking oil, keep other foods and kitchen scraps out of the drain. Seeds, eggshells, pasta, they can all cause blockages and clog your pipes as well as the sewer.

The biggest culprits that find their way down the sink are coffee grounds and tea leaves, which along with your other fruit and veg scraps can all go in the bin, or better, the compost! You could also use a sink strainer over the plughole, to make sure you catch even the smallest scraps.

Paints, Bleach and strong chemicals

All of these products have chemicals and toxins in them which can’t always be removed in water treatment plants, contaminating the environment and sometimes even our drinking water. There is also a risk that some chemicals might combine in the sewer and cause a dangerous reaction in the pipes. If bleach goes down the drain and mixes with a substance that contains ammonia, like glass cleaner, they can create a deadly toxic gas.

Always read the label to find out how to safely dispose of your chemical cleaning products. And speak to your local authority about how to get rid of leftover paint - although you could consider donating it to a local arts or theatre school?

What not to flush down the toilet

Other than toilet paper, nothing else should be flushed down the toilet. All of these things belong in the bathroom bin, and not the bowl:

Wet Wipes

Wet wipes are one of the main ingredients in a fatberg. They don’t break down in the sewer the same way toilet paper does, they get glued together by the congealing oils and fats in the drain and cause a bigger blockage.

Whether they are marked as flushable or not, the advice from experts is to never flush any form of wipe down the toilets. That includes cosmetic wipes and cleaning wipes too.

Nappies and Hygiene Products

Just like wet wipes, none of these will breakdown in the sewer, because they are all made to soak up liquid and expand. Once these get into the system they’ll cause major pipe blockages, and if this happens in your pipes, you or your neighbour might discover a nasty septic leak to clean up.

All of these items and their packaging belong in the bin. If you don’t have one in your bathroom, consider bringing one in to help promote your household throwing it away and not flushing it.

Contact Lenses

Contact lenses don’t necessarily cause blockages, but when they breakdown into smaller pieces they get through the water processing system and end up in our oceans and waterways. Contact lenses have been listed as a key contributor to microplastic pollution in the ocean, and have even been found inside our seafood. So unless you want to see them back on your plate, think twice before you flush them down the drain.

Hair and Dental Floss

Anything that can tangle needs to go in the bin. Hair and dental floss can both wrap around other objects the drain and cause bigger blockages. Dental floss is especially harmful as it’s made from nylon and doesn’t breakdown. Look out for eco-friendly biodegradable dental floss. Your hair can also be used to fertilise plants. Collect your loose strands and mix them with the soil around your pot plants or flower beds.

Medicines and pharmaceuticals

You might have seen it done in movies, but you should never flush pills or tablets down the toilet. Water processing plants can’t always filter the medicinal contents out and so they stay in the water and contaminate rivers and waterways. This can not only harms the plants and wildlife, but it also means they can find their way back into our drinking water.

Ask your local pharmacist or chemist about the best way to dispose of old medicines.