Ragging being removed from a sewer. Irish Water
plastic problem

Wet wipes and sanitary products cause over 500 sewage blockages every month

The problem costs €7 million per year to address.

WET WIPES AND other sanitary products are causing more than 500 sewage blockages every month.

In the first nine months of this year, Irish Water estimates that it removed almost 4,700 blockages caused by such items from the sewer network.

These products are commonly known as ‘ragging’ and this number does not include blockages at pumping stations or at wastewater treatment plants.

For example, the wastewater treatment plant at Ringsend processes almost 40% of the country’s wastewater and approximately 60 tonnes of ragging is removed from this plant alone on a monthly basis.

It cost over €7 million to remove ragging from the sewer network in 2017. 

During the week, BBC News reported that all wet wipes sold as “flushable” in the UK have so far failed the water industry’s disintegration tests.

Wet wipes are behind up to 80% of blockages in UK sewers, costing around £100 million (€115 million) per year to deal with.

Manufacturers have said sewer blockages are caused by people putting non-flushable wipes down the toilet. The British government is working with manufacturers and water companies to develop a product that does not contain plastic and can be safely flushed.

Tougher rules

Last month, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly for tougher restrictions on single-use plastics, including wet wipes.

A spokesperson for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment said the government “strongly supports” these proposals. 

The parliament intends to introduce ‘extended producer responsibility’ to the wet wipes industry, making producer-led schemes to fund the costs of waste management and clean-up mandatory, as well as awareness-raising measures.

In addition, wet wipes will be required to contain clear and standardised labelling which indicates how waste should be disposed of, the negative environmental impact of the product, and the presence of plastics in the product.

The spokesperson said Minister Richard Bruton welcomes “the progress to date on this EU proposal and has asked his officials to start work on the measures, legal and otherwise, needed to act on the implementation of the changes to be enacted”.

Clean Coasts

Irish Water is working with Clean Coasts to deliver Think Before You Flush – a national public awareness campaign about the problems wet wipes and other items can cause in homes, wastewater infrastructure and the marine environment if they are flushed down the toilet.

Clean Coasts Ireland / YouTube

A spokesperson for Irish Water said one of the simplest things people can do to counteract this is to place a bin in their bathroom and dispose of sanitary items safely and appropriately.

“This can have a hugely positive impact on the network and the environment,” they added. 

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