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POSTED: October 10, 2013 11:47 a.m.

People used to know how things worked. I have been up on my soapbox a few times railing about how Americans have lost touch with the land and do not know where their food comes from and what it takes to bring it to them. I have tried to sound a warning about where this disconnected thinking is leading, at least as much as political correctness will allow.
Now, I have discovered new areas of ignorance but instead of getting food into the mouth it is about dealing with the other end. Yes, it’s the wet wipes. Yes, NFL offensive linemen endorsing a wet wipe for men. Easy! Convenient! More Sanitary! You just flush it down just like toilet paper!
See, out of sight, out of mind. It is convenient for you. You don’t care what happens after you flush. You don’t care where it goes as long as you don’t know.  
We Americans use the porcelain convenience like a trash can. In addition to the toilet paper that is supposed to be flushed, baby diapers, baby wipes, hygiene products and “flushable” wipes go down as well. If you are on your own individual home septic system — oops, the PC term is on-site disposal system (OSDS); OSDS looks so much better on the conference agenda, don’t you know — then the only system you mess up is your own, and you have to pay for the pump-out and line-clearing.  If you are on a community or municipal system, your “convenience” flush affects others and eventually comes back to bite you in the wallet with higher water- and sewer-service charges.
A very brief primer on how your municipal sewer system works: After you flush, the waste goes into a pipe that is sloped downhill, because water runs downhill due to it being a liquid and gravity working on it. These are called gravity sewers. But a gravity-sewer line does not slope all the way to China. After it reaches a certain depth, a lift station is installed. A lift station pulls the waste up to the surface and pumps it into another line that runs downhill until it reaches a particular depth, and another lift station is installed. This continues until it reaches the waste-treatment plant.  
How often the lift stations are installed depends on many things, but the driving factor is cost. A lift station costs a lot more than a section of pipe, so the more shallow the slope of the pipe, the fewer lift stations are needed, the lower the construction and operation costs and the fewer things there are to break down and need maintenance. If everything in the pipe was water, that would be all one needed to make the system work.  
However, there are solids involved. Grinders are installed periodically to grind up any solids so the suspended stuff flows. Baby diapers, baby wipes, paper products and even “flushable” wipes don’t grind well and burn out grinder motors and clog lines. Toilet paper is designed to not clog the system and to be compatible with both the built infrastructure and the biological systems of the treatment plant.
The vast majority of sewer systems were built before the low-flow toilet was mandated. They worked fine with waste carried along with a 7-gallon slug of water. Now with the low-flow toilets, the ratio of solids to liquids has changed, and that causes problems for line flow and processing at the sewage-treatment plant. Sometimes it is just too concentrated to play well with the bacteria of the treatment plant.
Now add to that wipes that don’t disintegrate despite what the packaging says, and we get the megablob of grease and wipes that the city of London, England, recently encountered. Fifteen tons of grease and wipes nearly clogged a main line. The volume of the blob was equated to the size of a double-decker London bus. Grease is a major problem for sewer lines and so are wipes, but together they are like putting fiberglass cloth together with resin and making a fiberglass boat hull. The product is greater than its components.
So my soapbox today is to ask you to send the diapers, wipes, hygiene products and paper to the landfill and continue to use the good, Georgia-grown pine TP that has served us and our public sewer systems so well for so long. Just because you can do something different does not mean you should.  
Now you should have an idea why this wet-wipe idea, while novel, is one that will eventually bite you where you wipe.

Gardner lives in Keller and is the UGA extension agent for Glynn County, serving South Bryan.

 

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