“Fatbergs” —  huge, dense, impenetrable masses of food, grease, and wet wipes — are clogging up city sewer systems in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Matt Flegenheimer describes New York City’s experience with these “superknots”:

The city has spent more than $18 million in the past five years on wipe-related equipment problems, officials said. The volume of materials extracted from screening machines at the city’s wastewater treatment plants has more than doubled since 2008, an increase attributed largely to the wipes.

Removal is an unpleasant task. The dank clusters, graying and impenetrable, gain mass like demon snowballs as they travel. Pumps clog. Gears falter. Then, there is the final blow, wrought by an intake of sewage that overwhelmed a portion of a north Brooklyn treatment plant.


New York City is not alone:

Wet wipes, which do not disintegrate the way traditional toilet paper does, have plagued Hawaii and Alaska, Wisconsin and California. Sewer systems have been stuffed in Portland, Ore., and Portland, Me. Semantic debates have visited Charleston, W.Va., challenging the latitude of “flushability.” “I agree that they’re flushable,” said Tim Haapala, operations manager for the Charleston Sanitary Board. “A golf ball is flushable, but it’s not a good idea.”


Emily Adkin explains how wet wipes, which have gained popularity as diaper wipes, hand sanitizers, facial wipes, and a replacement for toilet paper, have become the major polluter of beaches in the U.K.:

The number of used wet wipes found on U.K. beaches has increased by 50 percent since 2013, according to a report released last week from the Marine Conservation Society. That’s because more people are flushing wet wipes down the toilet, and they’re not supposed to — wet wipes often contain tough fibers like plastic and polyester, and don’t disintegrate as easily as toilet paper.
By the time sewer systems discharge into the ocean, the report said toilet paper is supposed to have broken down. But wet wipes are increasingly blocking those systems, resulting in the tissue getting washed into the sea and on to the beach. For every kilometer the Conservation Society cleaned, the report said, 35 wet wipes were found, making them the fastest growing pollutants on U.K. beaches.
“Much of the litter we find on our beaches starts off in our bathrooms,” the report says. “It’s a disgusting thought, but it’s true.”


The only things that should be flushed down the toilet are the “3 P’s”: pee, poop, and (toilet) paper. Please tell your friends and neighbors about this.