Campaigns nationwide are encouraging people to watch what they flush, especially when it comes to “flushable” products.
Jared Greeno, superintendent of the La Crosse Wastewater Utility, said 10.5 million gallons of wastewater is processed by the plant daily. The utility treats waste from not only from the city, but also from nearby places, such as the city of Onalaska, town of Campbell, town of Shelby and city of La Crescent.
In order to treat the water, unwanted waste must first be removed through a step screen 35 feet in the ground.
Waste larger than 0.25 inches accumulates on a screen and is compacted into bags and disposed at a landfill.
Dental floss, Q-tips, condoms and hair are among many of the objects that are collected on the step screen, but many are unidentifiable. Greeno said toys, such as LEGOs, sometimes make it through the drains and money is often found during Oktoberfest.
“I’m not sure why,” Greeno said. And every day countless wipes are removed from the La Crosse Wastewater Utility and contribute to the six cubic yards of waste the plant collects every week, enough to fill a small dump truck.
The Orange County Sanitation District in California launched an awareness campaign titled “What 2 Flush” in order to educate the public about what should and should not be disposed of in the toilet. Wipes and rags, products largely deemed “flushable,” were emphasized as unsafe to flush and some of the most common items that cause clogs and backups.
“Rags can be anything and everything,” said Mark Johnson, manager of La Crosse’s Utilities Office.
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Another item that is commonly flushed that can pose long-term problems is medication. Johnson said some pills may not be removed through the collection system and could end up in wastewater.
“It all boils down to what’s convenient,” he said.
The La Crosse Wastewater Utility is considering a pre-treatment program to educate the public and decrease the amount of waste.
Greeno said the utility may distribute a handout that would be stuffed into the water bills. But ultimately “it’s a matter of interest,” and many people just don’t think about waste.
“If people are interested, they’ll find the information,” he said. “But we all get into our routines and habits.”
The only thing that should be flushed down a toilet aside from human waste is toilet paper, Johnson said. People should also steer clear of flushing anything else because sewer backup can cause property damage and a variety of other expensive problems.
“Regular toilet paper will disintegrate in water, but others don’t come apart,” he said. “Bottom line — garbage goes in the garbage can.”