Like many older North American municipalities, Hamilton is dealing with the issue of items being flushed down the toilet that should not be. Flushing inappropriate items is leading to the damage of homes, neighbourhoods, the wastewater treatment system and even Hamilton Harbour.
The City has created the Own Your Throne campaign to help educate residents of the impact caused by flushing items that should never be flushed. The only things that should be flushed are pee, poo and toilet paper.
Only Flush the 3Ps Down Your Toilet
Don't treat your toilet like a garbage can! The only materials that are properly treated and break down safely within the wastewater system are pee, poo and toilet paper. When you flush other items, such as feminine products, wipes, dental floss or even hair, these items can create clogs in your own pipes, pipes in your neighbourhood and the wastewater system.
The Unflushables: Items that Aren’t Safe to Flush
“Flushable” wipes, such as make-up removal wipes, cleaning wipes and baby wipes should not be flushed down the toilet, even if their products' packaging states that they are flushable. As convenient as flushing wipes may sound, the claims on the product packaging are misleading. Wipes do not break down in the wastewater treatment process the same way that toilet paper does, creating clogs in pipes and sewers.
It is important to know that you cannot flush these items (or anything other than pee, poo and toilet paper) down the toilet:
Cotton balls and swabs
Tissues or napkins
Deceased goldfish or pets
Tampons and applicators
Wipes of any kind, including those that claim to be “flushable”
Always keep a waste bin by your toilet to easily dispose of items that should never be flushed. ALL WIPES, including cleaning wipes, baby wipes, adult personal hygiene wipes, facial wipes and make-up removal wipes should be disposed of in the garbage.
Misleading Product Packaging
As an incentive to buy wipes and personal hygiene products, some manufacturers state that their products are OK to flush on the package. However, a majority of Canadian municipalities and international water services agree that these wipes are not safe to flush because they are:
- Unable to break down into small pieces quickly
- Contain plastic, regenerated cellulose or materials that do not readily degrade in a range of natural environments
These disposable wipes are one of the main culprits to cause millions of dollars in wastewater infrastructure damages across Canada.
Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group (MESUG) and International Standards
The City of Hamilton is a member of the Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group (MESUG), which advocates for the removal of this misleading packaging. Currently, MESUG is engaging in discussions with the provincial and federal levels of government in Canada to establish an international standard of products that can be safely flushed down toilets. As of now, this standard does not exist.
- The City of Hamilton and MESUG are supportive of the international water industry's position on non-flushable and 'flushable' labelled products, which states:
- Only the 3Ps - pee, poo and toilet paper - should be flushed.
- Wipes labelled as 'flushable' based on passing a manufacturers' trade association guidance document should be labelled "Do Not Flush" until there is a standard agreed by the water and wastewater industry, preferably developed under the banner of the International Standards Organization (ISO).
- Manufacturers of wipes and personal hygiene products should give consumers clear and unambiguous information about appropriate disposal methods.
- Always keep a waste bin by your toilet to easily dispose of items that should never be flushed.
- Tossing unflushables into the waste bin is more environmentally friendly than flushing them. By properly disposing these items into the garbage, you are helping keep the unflushables out of the harbour and out of the environment.
- Wrap any baby wipes within your baby's used diaper and throw it in the garbage can once you're finished changing your little one.
- Check your toilet’s flush rating at map-testing.com.
- Ignore the flushable information on your wipes' packaging when they state that wipes are safe to flush. Wipes are not safe to flush.
- Return expired or unused pharmaceuticals or medications to your pharmacy.
- Purchase non-toxic alternatives to harsh chemicals for your cleaning needs. Use up the entire product.
- Do not buy more than what you need.
- Do not pour unused household chemicals down the drain or into your toilets.
- Properly dispose of products such as paints, solvents and vehicle fluids by taking them to the City’s Community Recycling Centres. Do not pour these down the drain.
- Maintain septic systems wisely. Try not to overload your septic system with large water volumes, and practice good maintenance with a pump-out every one to three years.
- Minimize both solids and water that go into them, never add harsh chemicals, and have them inspected every few years.
Protecting the environment and the wastewater system
Learn more about the damage flushables can do to the harbour, infrastructure, your home and neighbourhood. By only flushing the 3Ps down your toilet - pee, poo and toilet paper - you can ensure that you are doing your part to:
- Avoid causing floatable waste and debris in Hamilton Harbour
- Help keep the City's wastewater and sewer systems in proper, working order
- Avoid plumbing damage to your home and neighbourhood
You can help keep Hamilton Harbour clean by only flushing the 3Ps (pee, poo and toilet paper).
To support a clean and beautiful Hamilton Harbour, the City of Hamilton developed the Hamilton Clean Harbour Program. This program consists of a series of infrastructure projects that aim to clean up the harbour, improve water quality, restore natural habitat, create more recreational opportunities, enhance business opportunities and contribute to better public health.
Hamilton is old... and so are some of the pipes
Like many older North American municipalities, Hamilton’s first sewer pipes were built to transport both sanitary waste and stormwater in a single pipe. These are called combined sewers. Most of the time combined sewer contents (rain, melted snow and sewage) make their way to the wastewater treatment plant for full treatment. However, during periods of heavy rainfall, the amount of stormwater that enters the combined sewer can exceed treatment plant capacity and some of the combined stormwater and sewage must be diverted untreated, directly into waterways like Hamilton Harbour in order to prevent flooded basements, neighbourhoods and damage to the wastewater system.
To reduce overflows into the environment, the City built 9 large tanks that hold excess untreated water until capacity at the treatment plant becomes available. While the tanks have resulted in a significant reduction in stormwater and untreated wastewater bypassing the plant and making it to the harbour, extreme rainfall can still cause the tanks to overflow, causing flushed debris to make it to shorelines around Hamilton Harbour.
Unflushables Can Turn Into Harbour 'Floatables'
Poor Flushing Decisions + Combined Sewers + Intense Rain = Harbour Pollution
Unflushable items like tampon applicators travel to Hamilton Harbour, becoming 'floatable' nuisances. This debris can ruin the natural beauty of the harbour, harm habitats and ecosystems and cause unwanted buildup of shoreline pollution.
How You Can Help
When you think about flushing an unflushable item, remember that even though you can't see it after it's flushed, it's not gone. It could reappear where it's not wanted - in our beautiful Hamilton Harbour and the city's natural environment.
Home Plumbing Damages
Clogs and buildup of materials that have not broken down in your pipes can lead to costly repairs. The repair bill for pipes that have been clogged or damaged by unflushable items can reach into the hundreds to thousands of dollars. That's a lot of money out of your pocket on an easy and preventable fix.
Be a Good Toilet Neighbour
Unflushables can also get caught in the sewage pipes that lead to your neighbours' homes, causing flooding and property damage. Don't risk it. Be a good neighbour and only flush the 3Ps to give you and your neighbours plumbing peace of mind (and dry basements).
Unflushable items can wreak havoc on the City's wastewater infrastructure. When anything that isn't the 3Ps (pee, poo and toilet paper) is flushed down the toilet, it can create clogs and damage pipes and pumps.
Wastewater System Repairs
Communities around the world have been affected by massive clogs in their wastewater systems that have a BIG impact. These clogs, which can grow to as big as dozens of metres long and wide, are commonly known as "fatbergs" because of their destructive nature and large-scale size. Workers must spend countless hours removing these clogs, and fixing damaged pipes and pumps before the wastewater flow returns to normal. The wastewater treatment quality can also be compromised, affecting the environment.
Workers must make their way through untreated sewage water to reach these difficult-to-access places where clogs may occur. What starts as minor buildup can quickly turn into a clog that completely cuts off water flow access through clogged unflushables that often include hair, fats, oils and grease, and disposable wipes that don't break down.
The Costs of Removing Clogs
Costs for removing unanticipated clogs and fixing damaged infrastructure is inevitably passed on to residents and businesses through wastewater rate increases.