The public are urged to ‘Think Before You Flush’ to safeguard our environment

19 August 2021

Almost one million adults living in Ireland admit to regularly flushing wet wipes and other sanitary items down the toilet

Irish Water and Clean Coasts are urging the public to continue to ‘Think Before You Flush’ as a recent survey has revealed that almost a million adults living in Ireland regularly flush wet wipes and other sanitary items down the toilet. With sea swimming and use of our beaches becoming more popular, it’s a timely reminder that our flushing behaviour has a direct impact on the environment and that making small changes can help protect Ireland’s sandy beaches, rocky shores and secluded bays.

Speaking about the survey results Tom Cuddy, Irish Water said, “In 2018, our research informed us that 36% of people living in Ireland were regularly flushing the wrong things down the toilet. Working in partnership with Clean Coasts on the Think Before You Flush campaign we have made some progress as 24% of respondents in this year’s survey admit to regularly doing so. Whilst this improvement is welcome, 24% represents almost a million people. The impacts of flushing the wrong things down the toilet are stark, as we are still removing thousands of sewer blockages from our network every month.

Removing blockages can be a nasty job, sometimes workers have to enter sewers to remove blockages with shovels. Some blockages can be removed with jetting and suction equipment. I’ve seen pump blockages that workers have had to literally clear by hand in order to get the pumps up and running again in a race against time to avoid sewage overflows to the environment.

“Our message is simple, only the 3 Ps, pee, poo and paper should be flushed down the toilet. All other items including wet wipes and other sanitary products should go in the bin even if they are labelled as flushable. This will reduce the number of sewer blockages, the risk of flooding to homes and businesses and the risk of pollution in the environment harming wildlife such as fish and birds and associated habitats. We have all seen the images of sea birds being impacted by marine litter and we all have a role to play in protecting our beaches, seas and marine life. A small change in our flushing behaviour can make a big difference - put wipes, cotton bud sticks and sanitary items in the bin and not down the toilet.”

Speaking about the size and scale of the challenge, Tom added, “Ringsend wastewater treatment plant is our largest treatment plant where approximately 40% of the country’s wastewater load is treated. An average of 60 tonnes of wipes and other items are removed from the screens at the plant every month, that is the equivalent of 5 double decker buses of foul material that needs to be disposed of. The issue is evident right across the country, our largest wastewater treatment plant in the West is Mutton Island in Galway City where approximately 100 tonnes of wipes and other items are removed from the wastewater treatment plant annually.

Speaking about the campaign, Sinead McCoy, Clean Coasts said, “The Think Before You Flush campaign, through education and awareness, aims to prevent items like wipes, cotton bud sticks and sanitary items washing up on Ireland’s spectacular beaches. While we have seen a positive improvement in the nations flushing behaviour since 2018, one in four adults still admit to regularly flushing unsuitable items down the toilet. By making small changes in our flushing behaviour, we can prevent the harm caused by sewage related litter in our marine environment. We are asking everybody to only flush the 3 P’s – pee, poo and paper, and put everything else in the bin.”

Wet wipes in treatment plant