Coronavirus “Poonammi”: Wet Wipes Causing Blocked Pipes


Authorities have warned sewage systems are clogging up with tissues, paper towels and wet wipes because of a toilet paper shortage caused by Coronavirus panic-buying.

Woolworths, Coles, Costco and other leading supermarkets nationwide have been running low on toilet paper since the seriousness of the Coronavirus outbreak became evident.

Dubbed the ‘Coronavirus Poonami’ on national news media, authorities now fear serious breakdowns in sewage systems could occur as a result of people’s carelessness or ignorance around what they can flush.

On Sunday Queensland Urban Utilities (QUU) sewer system maintenance crews had to be winched down a manhole in Lytton Rd Brisbane to remove a large blockage of (predominantly) wipes and paper towels.

Spokesperson for QUU, Michelle Cull, said wet wipes were causing blockages not only in the sewer network but in household plumbing as well.

“If you have to clear a blockage in your private plumbing the repair bill could run into the thousands,” Ms Cull said.

“So it’s now more important than ever to only flush the three Ps; pee, poo and (toilet) paper.”

In 2019 QUU alone cleared about 3,500 blockages from sewer pipes at a cost of more than $1 million with wet wipes a big contributor.

But news sources have reported that in the four weeks since Australia’s supermarket toilet paper shortage began in late February, there has been somewhat of an ePOOdemic in our sewers with callouts to clear blocked drains in Brisbane alone quadrupling.

Anecdotal reports from Sydney, Melbourne and other capital cities across the country reflect similar figures – but with toilet paper shortages continuing to frustrate consumers many are asking what options they have.

One shopper who’d driven to Aldi for toilet paper only to be confronted by rows of empty shelves headed for the paper towels section expressing what many others there were feeling.

“I just don’t know what else we’re supposed to do,” she said.

“It seems wasteful and expensive using these wipes and paper towels as toilet paper but what choice is there?”

Nuflow Technologies, a major Australian domestic pipe clearing and relining company based in Queensland, is also concerned about the number of people disposing of wet wipes, tissues and paper towels in toilet systems.

Ben Norton, Nuflow spokesperson, said wet wipes, tissues, paper towels and nappies were the major causes of clogged and broken sewer pipes after tree root invasion.

“That’s because they don’t disintegrate like toilet paper,” he said.

“They’re actually designed to stay intact so when you put them in the sewer pipes they do just that and eventually cause clogged drains and sometimes even giant fat-bergs.

“We’ve been doing our best to educate people about the risks of using these types of products instead of toilet paper for years but our team is constantly unblocking and relining sewer systems clogged with these items.”

Many populated countries in Asia and Europe already manage to do their business without excessive toilet paper use but Australians have come to rely on it. This is driving the panic-buying in the Woollies and Coles toilet paper aisles being broadcast across the world.

With few alternatives to toilet paper, Norton says the best advice is to install a lined waste bin near the toilet.

“If people run out of toilet paper it’s fine to use these alternatives,” he said.

“The trick is just to not put them into your sewer.

“Get a bin with a lid (childproof if you have young children in the home), line it with a biodegradable plastic bag and then empty the bag into the trash each day.”

During these unprecedented times Nuflow partners are still open and available to provide essential plumbing services. If you want to avoid having blocked drains, contact them today to get some tips on alternatives to toilet paper.

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