Let’s keep sewers flowing during COVID-19 crisis


Lanes Group plc is backing water companies who are urging customers not to switch to flushing substitute products down toilets during current toilet paper shortages.

Panic buying triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has raised concern that people may resort to swapping toilet paper for other products like wet wipes and kitchen towel, which could increase the risk of blockages.

Lanes, founder of the Unblocktober campaign to protect sewers and oceans from polluting products wrongly disposed of down toilets and sinks, is also worried.

Lanes Technical Director Andy Brierley said: “We appreciate that people are going through difficult times with spread of COVID-19, also called coronavirus, through the UK.

“But trying to flush the wrong waste items down toilets is going to make a bad situation worse, because sewer blockages can lead to wastewater service disruption and sewer flooding, which is also a threat to health.

“The only three things that should go down toilets are poo, pee and toilet paper. We don’t want to our sewers to seize up at this difficult time for the whole country.

“Many people, especially elderly and vulnerable people are especially concerned by COVID-19. These are the same people who are also most at risk if sewer systems are not working properly because of mis-use.”

Lanes provides wastewater network maintenance services for water companies across the UK, including Thames Water, Severn Trent, Anglian Water, Yorkshire Water and Northumbrian Water.

Thames Water is urging its customers to help reduce the risk of sewer blockages by not flushing wet wipes or kitchen roll down their toilets if they’re using them instead of toilet paper.

Kitchen roll is specifically designed to keep its integrity when soaked with water so can quickly clog pipes. Wet wipes have been found to be a main constituent of fatbergs, which can build up in sewers.

Matt Rimmer, Thames Water’s head of waste networks, said: “Fatbergs grow slowly so it’s hard to say if coronavirus has had an impact on our sewers at this stage. But we’d urge everyone to help avoid problems in the future.

“We’re carefully planning how we can continue to provide an essential public service. We encourage everyone to practice good hygiene to protect against COVID-19. But wet wipes and kitchen roll can be hugely damaging to our sewers and our customers can really help us by not flushing them down the toilet.”

Unblocktober, which is returning in 2020 after Lanes launched the campaign in 2019, encourages people to abstain from putting damaging items down toilets and discarding fats, oils and grease down sinks.

Tens of thousands of people got the message that blocking sewers and disposing of plastic products like wipes and sanitary products down toilets, increases the risk of plastic pollution blighting waterways and causing harm to wildlife in our oceans.

Unblocktober is endorsed by many water companies and wildlife groups, as well as the Government’s Love Water campaign, spearheaded by the Environment Agency and backed by more than 40 national organisations.

Andy Brierley said: “COVID-19 is a test of our resilience and determination to do the right thing when facing difficult challenges. We hope the growing number of Unblocktober supporters will continue to stand firm and help us protect our communities and the environment.”

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