Disposable wipes subject to new campaign in Cairns

Cairns Regional Council has launched a "Bin It, Don't Flush It" campaign to encourage residents to dispose of their disposable wipes appropriately.

Cairns Regional Council has launched a “Bin It, Don’t Flush It” campaign to encourage residents to dispose of their disposable wipes appropriately.

The new campaign seeks to reduce the number of disposable wipes ending up in the Cairns sewer system. The Cairns Regional Council currently spends about $800,000 yearly to unblock pipes and remove non-flushable items from sewer systems. Over 500 tonnes of non-flushable things are removed annually from Council’s sewer systems. This is about the same as 45 school buses. Disposable wipes account for about 40% of the non-flushable items removed from the Council’s sewer systems.

Cairns Regional Council has launched a new campaign to reduce the number of non-flushable items.

The “Bin It, Don’t Flush It” campaign targets the hundreds of tonnes of disposable wipes flushed down the loo each year, potentially wreaking havoc on the city’s sewer system.

Disposable wipes make up about 40% of the 500 tonnes of non-flushable items extracted yearly from the Cairns sewer system.

The “Bin it, Don’t Flush It” campaign is being rolled out on buses and through multiple media platforms. Residents and visitors will be reminded to think twice before flushing disposable wipes.

Disposable wipes and fatbergs

Cairns Mayor Bob Manning said sewer and pipe blockages due to non-flushable items cost Council $800,000 annually.

“That is a costly problem that can be easily avoided. People can take the time to dispose of items, such as disposable wipes properly,” said Cr Manning.

“Even if it says flushable on them, they’re probably not going to break down in the wastewater system and will contribute to the problem, so it best to take a cautious approach and bin them too.”

When combined with grease and other cooking fats improperly sent down drains, wipes can congeal and form massive “fatbergs”, which block pumps and pipes.

There have been several large fatbergs found in sewer systems in Australia, including:

  • A three-tonne mass made up of wipes, clothing, plastic, and other items removed from a pump station in Mackay in 2020
  • A massive fatberg weighing 42 tonnes took nine hours to remove from a Melbourne sewer in 2020
  • In 2016, a seven-metre, 750-kilogram snake-like conglomerate that included used wet wipes was found in Lake Macquarie, New South Wales.

“Although Cairns has not experienced anything like that, we removed a 300kg fatberg from the Southern Wastewater Treatment Plant last year. This highlights just how much of a problem these masses of non-flushable items can be caused,” said Cr Manning.

“With an average of 200 tonnes of disposable wipes, the equivalent of 18 school buses, removed from sewers in Cairns each year, there is a lot of potential for blockages.

“The result can be sewage backing up into homes or overflowing into the environment – either way, the outcome is both unpleasant and costly.”

What else not to flush, including disposable wipes?

Other common non-flushable items include cotton buds, baby and face wipes, household cleaning wipes, tissues, tampons, condoms, nappies and cigarette butts.

“All these items can lead to blockages,” said Cr Manning.

“Only the three Ps should be flushed down the toilet, in pee, poo and (toilet) paper. It’s about maintaining and managing our critical infrastructure to ensure it is in working order for the community. We all need to take responsibility and bin it, don’t flush it.”

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