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Flushing wipes down toilet could cause sewer backups and spills, Honolulu officials warn

City officials today reminded the public that wipes, paper towels and other products should not be flushed down the toilet.

The city Department of Environmental Services reminded the public of the three “P’s” rule — only pee, poop and toilet paper – should go down the toilet.

While the department encourages the public to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for cleaning surfaces with disinfecting wipes to reduce the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic, those wipes must go in the garbage. Wipes do not break down in the wastewater system, officials warned, and can therefore cause backups and spills.

This includes “flushable wipes,” baby wipes, disinfectant wipes, paper towels, feminine hygiene products, and similar materials, which should go in the regular trash and not be flushed down any toilet, including public park toilets, to the city’s sewer system.

“All of these items will clog the homeowner’s main lateral before it reaches the city pipes, or could clog a sewer pipe, wastewater pump station or treatment plant causing a health risk of raw sewage spilling into the environment and place public health at risk during the coronavirus pandemic,” the department said in a news release.

The city sewer system is designed to only transport water, toilet paper and human waste to a wastewater treatment plant, the department said.

“All wipes and paper towels do not break down in the sewer system,” ENV Director Lori Kahikina said. “The packaging may say they are ‘flushable,’ but they truly are not as they do not break down in the system.”

The problem of people flushing wipes down the toilet has been a national problem for about a decade, the department said, and is not unique to Honolulu.

A public service announcement explaining how wipes jam the sewer system is available online.

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