Bill to clean up sewer blockages runs into millions of pounds every year

Some of the material removed from a blocked sewer.

Some of the material removed from a blocked sewer. - Credit: Archant

More than 800 tonnes of wipes and other hygiene items are removed from sewers every week in the Eastern region and the cost of the clean-up operation runs into millions.

According to new figures released by Anglian Water, there were 272 blockages in Huntingdonshire last year, but for some of the bigger towns and cities in the water authority’s patch, about 40 tonnes of bathroom waste is being wrongly flushed each week – roughly the same weight as 10 adult elephants.

The company has revealed that it clears up to 30,000 blockages in the sewer system each year and as well nappies and wipes, problems are also caused by people tipping fat, oil and grease down the sink.

Last year, it cost Anglian Water £15 million for the clear-up operation and it admits that the old sewer systems in most towns and cites were not built to cope with modern-day waste.

A recent survey of women in the UK found nearly half admitted they flushed sanitary items down the toilet and didn’t know they shouldn’t. The same number of women said they didn’t know this was damaging the environment.

Wipes cause similar problems to the sewer system and, as almost half the adult population are said to be buying them each week, they present a huge problem. Cleansing wipes are the most common with more than 10 million being sold each year.

Emma Staples, from Anglian Water, said: “The UK’s sewers and pumping stations weren’t built to cope with wet wipes, tampons or other sanitary items. When flushed they don’t disintegrate like toilet paper and they cause blockages. That can mean nasty smells, or worse still a higher risk of flooding and pollution of your home and the environment.

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“The reality is most women don’t know they shouldn’t flush tampons, and the same is true of wipes - and it’s no wonder. The packaging on these products is confusing and that’s why we are calling on manufacturers to make this clearer.

“We also wanted to raise awareness of the issue and during the survey, thankfully, 95 per cent of the women we spoke to said they cared about the environment and are willing to do their bit.”

Sharon Jones, one of Anglian Water’s sewage operatives, added: “I see first-hand the damage caused by these items being flushed and the distress it causes people when sewage has backed up into their garden or home. It can all be avoided if everyone binned their tampons, sanitary waste, wipes and other bathroom waste”.