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Mislabeled ‘flushable’ items damaging Toronto’s sewers: report

People who toss products marketed as “flushable” down the toilet are costing municipalities across the country as much as $250-million per year, according to a study from Ryerson University.

Researcher Barry Orr is a 25-year veteran of London, Ontario’s sewage system. He’s spent the past seven years working with a team at Ryerson at one-of-a-kind “flushability lab.”

The team tested 101 different products, including toilet paper, floss, paper towels, baby wipes and so-called flushable personal hygiene wipes. The team wanted to know whether the products broke apart once they left the bowl.

“Of our 101 products, 11 products passed our international test. All 11 products were toilet paper,” said Orr, who stresses that the only thing that people should flush is human waste and toilet paper.

The study found that everything else blocks the pipes and can glob together to create expensive clogs.

Ryerson’s lab replicates the average home’s system from toilet to sewer. To pass the team’s test, a product must ultimately break down to a point where 95 per cent of it can fit through a 25 millimetre sieve.

Toronto spends roughly $3.5 million a year on maintenance and repair costs from blocked sewers, but the city says that’s not solely because of non-flushable wipes.

Households tend to flush all kinds of inappropriate items down their toilets. The problem is so bad, every year the City of Toronto runs a public education campaign.

Among the big no-no’s:

– hygiene products;
– fat, oil and grease;
– medication and
– household hazardous waste.

Orr hopes his study will help change the rules around labeling and the product standards in the wipes industry.

Meanwhile, he says there’s one simple thing people can do to potentially save their cities millions: “Don’t use your toilet as a garbage can.”