As toilet paper supplies become harder to find in stores amid the coronavirus panic, more Mainers are turning to so-called "flushable wipes." The problem with this, says Ivy Frignoca with Friends of Casco Bay, is that the wipes aren’t actually flushable.
“In your septic tank, that could mean it could create a blockage and your toilets would back up in your house," Frignoca says. "And in a wastewater treatment facility, it could interfere with how they're processing things, it could jam things and they will have to take steps to repair it and remove all of those materials.”
Frignoca says that wastewater treatment facilities are essential in keeping the bay and other bodies of water from becoming polluted.
Municipal wastewater treatment operators say the so-called flushable wipes, which don't break down the way toilet paper does, can hamper those anti-pollution efforts. Scott Firmin, director of wastewater services at the Portland Water District, says they can clog septic tanks and even sewers, creating more work for already strapped teams at wastewater facilities.
“We're working very hard to maintain our water and wastewater systems," Firmin says. "And if we can avoid having to go out and deal with an issue that's been caused by something being flushed that shouldn't be flushed that would be really, really helpful to us right now as we work to provide those essential services.”
Firman says materials such as wipes should instead be disposed of in the garbage.