To flush or not to flush? That is the question. At least that is the question when the answer is something big, icky and known by the less-than-appetizing term “fatberg.”
A fatberg, for the blissfully ignorant, is a congealed mass of food fat mixed with disposable wet wipes like those that claim to give users a much more fresh feeling than basic, run-of-the mill toilet paper. In Britain, a 15-ton fatberg — enough to fill a double-decker bus — jammed up London sewer lines so badly the system was only using 5 percent of its normal capacity and took weeks to fix.
Talk about a real life version of “The Blob.” And talk about a reason to give it up for toilet paper.
While the world remains divided on that age-old question of over or under when it comes to toilet paper rolls, the sewer folks are unified on one front — those so-called disposable wipes are the devil. OK, maybe not the devil, but they’re certainly creating one hell of a problem in pipes everywhere. The British fatberg lingering below London was a drastic example of what happens when the wipes are flushed but it certainly isn’t the only one. And it’s not only the English that apparently have a soft spot for ending their time upon the throne with an extra-clean slate. Stories are popping up on this side of the pond and even the local South Bayside System Authority is getting in on the call for action during national Pollution Prevention Week.
First, yes, there is a whole week devoted to wiping out pollution. This week to be exact and this year’s theme is “Wipes Clog Pipes.” Certainly not as catchy as the favorite “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” of my childhood but then again we’re not talking about empty soda cans on the side of the road. We’re talking instead about a big ball of grossness that makes those sewer-dwelling cannibals of ’80s horror movies look down-right cuddly.
The bottom line, according to those who know these things, is that the label “flushable” means the wipes will go down but doesn’t mean they will disintegrate. The wipes stay intact, collecting tree roots and debris as they make their merry way through the pipes until the whole messy situation ends up with a clog, an overflow or a very expensive price tag. No wonder the sewer folks are flush with frustration; their jobs already fall on most people’s short list of unappetizing employment. Why make it worse?
Bathroom wipes are not the sole culprit. Wipes of all types are causing havoc — cleaning and disinfectant, baby, even those moist towelettes at the end of finger-lickin; good meals. Forget feather dusters and rags, water and cleaner; in today’s throwaway society, cleanliness means individual products, premoistened in the name of no-brainer convenience.
One answer is, of course, to throw these wipes in the trash instead of the bowl which eventually leads to a landfill. So much for earth-friendly.
The other is to squeeze the Charmin (sorry, Mr. Whipple) or not squeeze the Charmin — just simply choose to use it over the alternatives. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but when it comes to disposable wipes, keep them out of the porcelain deity.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.