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Anchorage utility company says flushable wipes and other items are clogging up the system

Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility says 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of wipes enter the sewer...
Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility says 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of wipes enter the sewer system every day.(Courtesy: AWWU)
Updated: May. 8, 2021 at 9:00 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s a problem that seems to have gotten worse during the pandemic. Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility spokeswoman Sandy Baker said people are flushing wipes and other items down the toilet when they shouldn’t be, and clogging up the works.

“We saw a small uptick in wipes when the pandemic started,” Baker said. “But this is a year-round problem for us.”

Baker said between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds of wipes enter the sewer system in Anchorage every day and crews spend a lot of time cleaning them up. The wipes combine with grease, oils and fats which, if not removed, can block pipes and have even caused sewage to back up into people’s homes.

Part of the problem, according to Baker, is that many types of wipes claim to be flushable on their packaging, but for practical purposes, they really aren’t.

“The wipes companies say they’re flushable because when you flush the toilet they go away, but they don’t break down,” Baker said. “So in their mind they’re flushable, but they’re really not, because they don’t break down like toilet paper.”

Baker said crews have fished out a few masks and gloves from sewer pipes, but also things some might consider even stranger.

“We had a surprising number of people doing extensive cleaning with toothbrushes and then flushing toothbrushes,” she said. “We had a lot of that showing up … and those are horrible for our system and that caused us extra work as well.”

Two other common culprits, according to Baker, are dental floss and hair.

“Hair is very strong and it wraps around nuts and bolts, and so is dental floss. It can sheer them and then we have to replace equipment.”

Baker said the rules for what can be safely flushed in the toilet are pretty simple if people can remember the three P’s.

“It’s pee, poo and toilet paper,” Baker said. “Other than that, use your garbage can.”

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