Clean Coasts and Irish Water today launched Think Before You Flush, a campaign aiming to tackle the problem of sewage related litter on Ireland’s beaches. Think Before You Flush is a public awareness campaign about the problem sanitary products and other items can cause in our marine environment and our wastewater systems if they are flushed down the toilet. Every day people flush thousands of sanitary items such as baby wipes and cotton bud sticks down the toilet instead of simply putting them in the bin. Other items that are frequently flushed down the toilet include cigarette butts and plasters.

In a study of over 1000 Irish people, 3 in 10 admitted to flushing such items down the toilet. Of these, 58% admitted to flushing baby wipes down the toilet, 40% facial wipes, 26% cotton bud sticks, 24% tampons and 21% cigarette butts. More than half of those who flush these items down the toilet did so simply due to a lack of knowledge. Sewage related litter is one of the largest categories of litter found on our beaches and is considered to be the most offensive.

Cotton bud sticks can pass through screens at wastewater treatment plants and are a common marine litter item found on Ireland’s beaches. The majority of cotton bud sticks are made of plastic, persist in the marine environment and can be mistaken as food by seabirds.

Speaking at the launch of Think Before You Flush, Annabel FitzGerald, Coastal Programmes Manager, An Taisce said, “The Think Before You Flush campaign through education and awareness aims to prevent items like cotton bud sticks washing up on Ireland’s spectacular beaches.” She added that, “During Clean Coasts Big Beach Clean in September 2014, a total of 1,191 cotton bud sticks were found on 103 beaches. By making small changes in our flushing behaviour we can prevent the harm caused by sewage related litter in the marine environment.”

90% of those surveyed agreed that seeing sewage related litter during a visit to the beach would disgust them while 84% of those surveyed agreed that if they knew that the items flushed down the toilet could end up being discharged into the ocean and could pollute our coastline and cause potential health risks they would not dispose of items in this way. This type of marine litter is totally preventable by simply changing our flushing behaviour.

Commenting at the launch, Elizabeth Arnett, Head of Communications in Irish Water said “Irish Water is delighted to be supporting An Taisce in this initiative. One of our major remits is the provision of reliable wastewater treatment, but everyone has a part to play in ensuring our beaches and rivers are pollution free. Through this campaign we can work together to improve our local freshwaters and coastal areas”.

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