Tradie's simple move exposes a multi-million dollar problem

Wipes continue to pose a huge threat to the environment, including Aussie waterways. And it's an expensive problem to have, officials say.

A Sydney plumber has lifted the lid on a multi-million dollar problem plaguing Aussie cities with an alarming video highlighting the reason why anything other than toilet paper should not be flushed down the loo.

Jesse Puntoriero, from Plumbflow Plumbingco, shared the telling clip on his TikTok account this week which shows the common cause of clogged drains across Australia — and it's an important and often costly reminder.

In the video, which has since amassed a whopping 3.5 million views, the tradie can be seen unscrewing the top of a drain inspection fitting at a property in southwest Sydney.

Almost immediately after releasing the plastic cap from the drain pipe, sewage water comes rushing out with force. Along with it, a collection of wipes floods the street and gets washed away with the dirty water, proving just how problematic they are for our wastewater systems.

Sydney plumber Jesse Puntoriero shows a blocked drain empty its contents, including hundreds of wipes.
A Sydney plumber revealed that wipes were the reason for a massive blockage inside a drain. Source: TikTok/Jesse Puntoriero

"I come across this all the time. People aren't supposed to flush anything but toilet paper," the plumber told Yahoo News Australia. In this case, the blockage was caused by a block of townhouses which all connect to this single main pipe.

Compounding the issue is the fact the mains aren't cleaned or repaired by Sydney Water as often as they should be, Puntoriero claimed, saying he's often returning to problem sites every six months to a year.

Why are they a problem?

The Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) says it's important to remember that only the 3Ps should be flushed down the toilet – pee, poo and toilet paper. Anything other than the 3Ps can have a significant impact.

"Wastewater systems are designed for human waste and toilet paper. Toilet paper breaks down quickly but while wet wipes may clear your toilet bowl, they do not break down quickly enough for our wastewater systems. This can lead to blockages and overflows into homes and creeks," WSAA said in a toilet paper fact sheet.

"Customers who flush wipes pay a high price when they need to fix blockages on their own property. However, it's not just cost, it is also the impacts on the environment when wipes are found in rivers and on beaches."

'Fatbergs' cost Aussie cities millions

The giant blockages are often referred to as "fatbergs". Sydney Water says hundreds of tonnes of unwanted bathroom products and kitchen waste enter our waterways and our wastewater system each year, at huge cost to customers and the environment. Sydney Water confirmed to Yahoo News that over $20 million is spent per year on maintenance programs to prevent and respond to wastewater blockages.

"Residents are being reminded over 75 per cent of all wastewater blockages involve wet wipes and other rubbish," a spokesperson said. "Sydney Water is urging residents to purchase wipes that meet the Flushable Products Standard and to put cotton buds, tissues and sanitary products in the bin."

Ian Wright, an associate professor from the School of Science at Western Sydney University previously told Yahoo the dollar figure "is an incredible understatement" and agreed that "wet wipes are an obvious and stupid thing society put down the toilet" — an issue that was heightened during the Covid pandemic.

In 2020, when supermarkets experienced shortages of toilet paper, City of Gold Coast warned its residents against flushing wet wipes down the toilet with city officials saying the sewerage system is not equipped to deal with them. A photo showed a giant clump of wipes that had built up in an underground pipe after hundreds had been flushed down the loo — but it's just one of many examples.

Calls to ban 'flushable' wipes

Another major issue is the introduction of wipes from brands that claim they're "flushable". The WSAA said it is working on developing a new Australian Standard that "that will include pass/fail criteria along with appropriate labelling requirements".

Wipes surround a drainage hole after causing the sewer pipe to block. Source: TikTok/eorgetheplumber
Another Aussie plumber exposed the same issue last month with a mountain of wipes gushing out of a clogged drain. Source: TikTok/eorgetheplumber

In 2019, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took the producer of so-called "flushable" wet wipes brand Kimberly-Clark Australia to court, accusing it of misleading customers. Images released by Sydney Water at the time show the severity of blockages caused by the wipes, which are advertised as flushable.

However, the suit was ultimately unsuccessful, as there was no evidence to verify sewerage blockages were the direct result of the wipes despite images of huge piles of wipes that failed to break down.

Aussies react to growing problem

The Aussie plumber's video shocked some on social media who agreed that wipes are a major problem. "Why do people still flush baby wipes," one questioned in the comments of the video. "Look at all those ‘flushable’ wipes," said another.

Previously, another Aussie plumber shared a similar reminder after unclogging a drain outside a residence, with a mountain of wipes exploding out of the pipe.

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