’Tis the season for holiday tips, but the tips I’m about to share aren’t the secret to cooking the juiciest turkey or finding the perfect gift for your picky teen. They’re about how you and your clients can keep your pipes clear and trouble-free so that you spend your time relaxing instead of dealing with a blockage.
At any time of the year, many Canadians are guilty of using their sinks and toilets like garbage cans, resulting in costly damage to their homes due to pipe clogs and backups. Two of the biggest offenders are personal hygiene products (baby wipes, feminine hygiene products, floss) and fats, oils and grease (which we call FOG). But with all the cooking, mess and chaos of the holidays, even more of these “offenders” will go down the drain than usual.
Let’s first focus on personal hygiene products, and wipes in particular. It’s understandable why so many people flush wipes — after all, it often says “flushable” on the packaging. But just because something can be flushed doesn’t mean it should!
The truth is, wipes don’t break down like toilet paper does. Neither do feminine hygiene products, cotton swabs or tissues. Because these items don’t dissolve like toilet paper, they can clump together in your pipes and cause a blockage. And a blockage can lead to backups and even basement flooding.
Flushing dental floss may seem harmless, but it can wind around things like wipes, tampons and human waste to form big clumps. (Hair can behave in the same way, so that’s another flushing no-no.)
“The bottom line is the only things that should be flushed are the 3Ps — that’s pee, poo and (toilet) paper,” says Amy Lane, marketing and communications manager at the Ontario Clean Water Agency, which runs the I Don’t Flush public awareness campaign along with partner Clean Water Foundation. “An eye-opening experiment to do yourself or with kids is to get clear glass jars and put toilet paper in one, wipes in another and so on. See for yourself how things do or don’t break down over time.”
Another major culprit in pipe blockages is FOG. You may have seen news reports about “fatbergs” in recent years. Fatbergs are huge masses of congealed FOG mixed with unflushables like wipes that cause blockages in municipal wastewater systems. Some discovered in British sewers have been as big as a double-decker bus. If you’re letting FOG go down the drain, you could be contributing to a mini-fatberg in your own home – and to a larger one down the line.
Some examples of FOG are meat fats, cooking oil, butter and margarine, dairy products, sauces and gravies, salad dressings and sandwich spreads.
“FOG like gravy and fat from cooked meat should be poured into a heat-safe container or left in the pan to cool and harden before scraping it into the green bin or trash,” says Ms. Lane. “Not sure whether FOG goes in the green bin or trash? Ask your municipality. Also, use paper towels to wipe excess FOG like salad dressing, whipped cream and meat grease from pans and dishes.”
Some cooking oils don’t harden, but they can still stick to pipes and debris. Small amounts can be absorbed in the green bin or garbage. Check with your municipality about how to dispose of larger amounts.
One more thing about FOG: Using hot water and/or detergent to wash it down the drain just pushes a potential clog further down the pipe.
Interested in learning more about how to keep your pipes happy this holiday season? The I Don’t Flush campaign encourages the public to properly dispose of household items rather than putting them down the drain. The campaign is run by the Ontario Clean Water Agency and the Clean Water Foundation with support from the following participating municipalities: Region of Peel, Regional Municipality of York, Niagara Region, City of Barrie, Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury and Town of LaSalle. Visit idontflush.ca for tips and to view our public service announcements.