“COVID-19 has resulted in more New Zealanders buying wet wipes as people want to keep surfaces and their hands clean to stop the spread of the virus,” said Ministry for the Environment COVID-Response Manager Shaun Lewis.
“But the recent spike in these products has resulted in some councils reporting many more blockages in their wastewater systems.”
The campaign calls on New Zealanders to keep the essential workers that have to unblock pipes safe, by disposing of wet wipes correctly.
“Flushing wipes, instead of putting them in a rubbish bin, puts council and contractor staff who look after our wastewater systems at risk of catching COVID-19 – through having to be called out to clear the contaminated blockages.”
“We know New Zealanders will want to help protect our wastewater systems, the environment, and most importantly, council workers by throwing wet wipes in the bin - not the toilet.”
Wet wipes, even those that claim to be ‘flushable’, do not break down as easily as toilet paper. When flushed they can create ‘fatbergs,’ which can then clog wastewater systems. The problem is compounded by more New Zealanders making home-cooked meals during lockdown with fatty liquids being put down the sink.
“This not only leads to more costs for repairs, but also diverts staff away from other important work at this time. Any wastewater overflow could also damage the environment.”
Wastewater overflows can end up in rivers, estuaries or harbours and pollute waterways.
The Ministry for the Environment is working with Local Government New Zealand, councils, major supermarket chains and Water New Zealand to encourage New Zealanders to dispose of wet wipes properly.
At least 15 councils* - including Auckland, Hamilton, Porirua and Marlborough - have reported wet wipes are a particular problem for them.
“Pumping stations in Auckland, for example, are breaking down weekly because of wipes being flushed down the toilet, when normally the council would only have problems once or twice a year. Repair work for these breakdowns are also costing three times as much as regular maintenance,” said Shaun Lewis.
“Wet wipes, including those labelled as flushable, should be thrown in the bin if used. The only thing that should be flushed down the toilet, as the Horowhenua Council puts it in their ongoing campaign, is ‘pee, poo and paper’.”
“It’s also great to see supermarkets pushing this message in their stores, and some councils are re-launching local initiatives to raise awareness of the issue,” said Shaun Lewis.
*NOTE: Councils/areas that have reported a wet wipes problem are: Queenstown, Tararua, Hastings, Marlborough, Raglan, Hamilton, Porirua, Waitaki, Auckland, Whakatane, Opotiki, Tasman, New Plymouth, Otago, Gisborne.