Coronavirus Panic Buying: Shoppers Warned Not to Flush Toilet Paper Alternatives
As fears grow that the Pittsburgh region could be running out of toilet paper reaches fever pitch, plumbers are cautioning shoppers not to reach for TP alternatives such as so-called sanitary wipes instead.
The past several weeks, shoppers across not only our region but throughout the entire country as well as around the globe, have hastened into supermarkets, drug stores and the like to stock up on necessary items amid fears a coronavirus pandemic could trigger interruptions to the food supply. But while food cupboard staples such as flour and pasta have flown off the shelves, shoppers seem to have stocked up the most on toilet paper.
Incredibly, it’s even led to violence. Last month, two women in Sydney, Australia, were charged after a three-person brawl over TP in a grocery store aisle. Days before, a man had to be tasered after allegedly choking a fellow customer and reaching for an officer’s gun in pursuit of the scarce stuff.
This panic buying has prompted some stores to enforce limits on how much stock a person can purchase while major TP manufacturers have increased their production efforts to meet demand.
So, why toilet paper?
We’ve seen it before. People panic-buy the darndest things. Truth is, toilet paper will not protect you from COVID-19, nor will it provide sustenance if you run out of food. So why the mad rush? For some people, it’s the need to be prepared in case of lockdown; for others, stockpiling TP is something they can control, and when you see the supermarket shelves bare, it increases that level of panic. Remember, panic-buying begets panic-buying.
Much more importantly, however, water authorities fear desperate people may resort to baby wipes, hand towels or tissues as an alternative to toilet paper, backing up the systems.
Are “Flushable Wipes” really flushable?
You can find wet wipes with the word “flushable” on the label sold right alongside toilet paper. Although the wipes do go down when you flush, they still clog drains and sewer systems.
The truth is, toilet paper is uniquely designed to break down quickly in the sewer system. Flushing wipes down the toilet, whether labeled “flushable” or not, can cause problems with a homeowner’s plumbing and can also contribute to blocked sewers.
Studies show wet wipes are anything but “flushable.”
In a recent study, researchers at Ryerson University in Ontario, Canada, tested 23 single-use wipe products labeled “flushable” and found none of them fully disintegrated once flushed. The research team also tested 78 other single-use wipes, including baby wipes, cleaning wipes, and others. Out of all 101 products tested, only two of them even partially disintegrated. None of them fully disintegrated.
So, what are the consequences?
Clogged pipes lead to sewer backups, which can back up into homes and businesses or can cause an overflow which are expensive to clean and repair – bills for households can be in the hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Plus, it’s estimated that local water authorities spend enormous amounts of money each year removing wipes from pipes and pumps. Add to this the environmental costs, say most plumbing companies.
Professional plumbers will tell you if you no other choice than using wipes in an emergency, consider wrapping them and placing them in the trash can rather than flushing them down the toilet.
Another alternative might be to use washable cloth baby wipes, ensuring, too, that these also go in the trash when disposing of, not down the toilet.
What can you flush?
City sewage district authorities will tell you that the only things you should flush down the toilet are human waste, toilet paper and used water. That may seem like a no-brainer, but what else people are flushing—or pouring down the sink drain—that they shouldn’t?
What you can’t flush
In addition to the baby wipes, disinfectant wipes, moist wipes, etc., here’s a longer list of things that are frequently flushed down toilets that definitely should not be!
- Facial tissues
- Toilet bowl scrub pads
- Q-tips/cotton balls
- Band-aids and other adhesive bandages
- Napkins (paper or cloth), paper towels
- Dental floss
- Eggshells, nutshells and coffee grounds
- Paint, varnish, paint remover
- Any type of food
- Chewing gum
- Fats, oils, and greases
- Garden supplies, such as pesticides, fertilizers
- Kitty litter
- Cigarette and cigar butts
- Feminine hygiene products
- Vitamins, medicines and other pharmaceuticals
- Sheet plastic or plastic of any kind
- Diapers, disposable or “flushable”
We know it’s tempting to flush anything down the toilet. It’s like a black hole; dump, flush, and it’s gone – sort of out of sight, out of mind.
To say it again, the only things you should flush down the toilet are human waste, toilet paper and used water. In fact, even the very thick and plush toilet paper can sometimes be very hard to break down. A courtesy flush is sometimes necessary to avoid clogging the drain. Single-ply 100 percent recycled toilet paper is best.
Still not convinced?
For those non-believers, try your own “flushability” test. Fill two bowls with water. Place toilet paper in one bowl and place one of the items on our list in the other. Swish both items in the water. Wait an hour, then swish again. The toilet paper will have significantly disintegrated by then, while the other item (for example, Kleenex, wipes, napkins, etc.) will likely remain intact.
Unless this item disintegrates at the rate of toilet paper, it should be placed in the garbage and not down the toilet. Otherwise, you’ll risk a blockage in your own pipes as well as clogging a pump station and causing a sewage backup for other homes and businesses.