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Law Review: The three Ps: pee, paper and poo

Jim Porter
Law Review
Jim Porter

With today’s COVID-19 crisis, we find ourselves using more disinfectant wipes and wiping down all surfaces over and over.

Bulletin: DO NOT FLUSH “FLUSHABLE WIPES” DOWN THE TOILET.

PORTER CLOGGED

I figured that title would get your attention. In our family that title would be Pee, Paper and Poop, but no matter (just don’t try and visualize it).

… these so-called “flushable wipes” are not really flushable, they’re flushable in that they go down the toilet, but they often get hung up in septic and sewer lines and in sewer treatment plants. They do not really decompose; and sometimes they’re even partially made of plastic.

A few years ago, the Porter family had occasion to suffer a septic backup – inconveniently timed the day before our Glenshire Elementary School Christmas party.

Long story short, which you will appreciate, it turns out our system was clogged with “disposable wipes,” also called “flushable wipes.” Flushable wipes started as baby wipes but have become big business. You can now buy flushable wipes for just about any use.

DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

The dirty little secret, so to speak, is that these so-called “flushable wipes” are not really flushable, they’re flushable in that they go down the toilet, but they often get hung up in septic and sewer lines and in sewer treatment plants. They do not really decompose; and sometimes they’re even partially made of plastic.

Products that go into a sewer system that muck up the works are called “non-dispersibles.” Non-dispersibles are anything other than human waste and toilet paper flushed down the toilet. Unfortunately, there are no standards defining or prohibiting the use of the words flushable or disposable, and despite opposition from municipalities and sewer districts, they remain on the market labeled “flushable.”

IT’S A TOILET, NOT A TRASH CAN

It turns out that toilet paper and only toilet paper breaks down quickly — almost immediately — unlike wipes, Kleenex tissues, paper towels, paper toilet “gaskets,” napkins, sanitary products, tampon applicators, hair, fingernail clippings, cotton balls and swabs, kitty litter, coffee grinds and the list goes on. One product called “One Wipe Charlies,” is aimed at younger men with the tag line “reach around for a deeper clean.” Visualize that.

When these non-dispersibles get mixed with the greases and oils that we put into our septic and sewer systems, they create what some in the industry call “fatbergs.” A seven-meter snake-like fatberg in Australia weighed 750 kilograms. Another famous fatberg in London was the size of a double-decker bus. You cannot drive a fatberg, you pay to have it removed. Removing “flushables” is costly business. Just ask any of our local sewer districts.

PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 2

The Orange County Sanitation District in a single year recorded hundreds of “de-ragging” maintenance calls and spent over $300,000 having wipes removed. Waste-water utilities in Canada say Canadian rate payers pay at least $250 million a year getting rid of “personal wipes.” New York City throws out a ballpark figure of $18 million per year for extra disposal related to non-disposables going down the toilet.

The Porter family spent less, but more than it wanted, getting our septic system ready for the big party. So-called flushables should have “Do Not Flush” prominently displayed on the front of the package. Various legislative bills have been proposed from time to time trying to define “flushable” and setting standards for what can be flushed down a toilet.

P FOR PORTER

By the way, my high school student body president campaign slogan, strategically placed above every school toilet, was “P for Porter.” It worked.

FLUSHING AWAY MONEY

This is a no brainer folks, it’s a matter of education and paying attention. We all save money by using our toilets only for the three Ps.

Industry representatives say non-flushable “flushables” is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind issue. However, that’s not always the case. If you were at the Porter Palace, the day before the big Christmas party — toilets and bathtubs were overflowing everywhere — in plain view.

Maybe I was not properly potty-trained, but this is a costly, easily fixable problem. Go on the websites of any of our local sewer districts to get more information.

This is a reprint of a previous column, edited slightly.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or http://www.portersimon.com.


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