Graphic that says "Only flush toilet paper. No tissues, no paper towels, no napkins, no wipes" with images of those items.

Did you know rags, debris and wipes are the biggest sources of sewer overflows and backups?

Flushing anything other than human waste and toilet paper can result in sewage back-ups, expensive damages to your home plumbing system, and cause problems to the sewer and water treatment system. That's why it's important to treat toilets properly, and flush only your personal contributions to the water treatment plant.

 

Only Toilet Paper in the Toilet

Toilet paper is the only paper product engineered to be compatible with the sanitary sewer system. It is the only item that breaks down in water quickly unlike other paper that doesn't break down. 

Never Flush

  • Disposable Wipes (even if marked “Flushable”)
  • Feminine Hygiene Products
  • Paper Towels
  • Dental Floss
  • Face Cleaning Pads
  • Cotton Balls or Ear Swabs
  • Condoms
  • Diapers
  • Cooking Grease
  • Pills
The Wipes Crisis
Image of non- flushable wipes in a water treatment facility

Wipes, paper towels, and other paper products get caught in sewer lift stations and in equipment at the wastewater treatment facility. These items can damage equipment and must be removed by hand.

In the past 10 years, there has been an increase in damages and costs due to clogs and backups from flushing wipes. 

Sales of Flushable Wipes grew by 23%. The total market may grow as much as 12.1% annually, expanding to $2.4 billion annually.

 

A study in Maine on the performance of wipes showed that approximately 35 percent of debris in the municipal sewer systems studied were disposable wipes.

  • This market expansion has caused significant clean-up costs on municipal utilities throughout the country. 
  • Utilities nationwide now spend $500 million to $1 billion each year dealing with problems caused by wipes.
  • So-called flushable wipes currently on the market in the U.S. were retrieved fully intact after at least 30 minutes of travel time through the sewer system.
At Home Experiment: Toilet Paper vs. Wipes

In this easy at-home experiment, you will see the speed with which common products break down and begin the process of decomposition. This will help you see why toilet paper is the only product that should be flushed down the toilet.

Materials 

  • Image with the words "Only flush toilet paper" and mason jar and toilet paper supplies beneath the words.Clear containers with a lid, such as Mason jars.
    • You will need one jar for each material you want to test.
    • If your jar does not have a lid, a stir
      stick can be used instead.
       
  • Testing Materials (Be sure to use toilet paper and at least one other material, but test as many materials as you would like!)
    • various brands of toilet paper
    • flushable wipes
    • non-flushable baby wipes
    • non-flushable cleaning wipes
    • facial tissue
    • paper towels
    • cotton balls
       
  • Optional- Tape and pen to label the jars

Procedure 

Image of toilet paper roll, mason jars, and non-flushable wipes.

  1. Fill each jar with tap water and put in one piece of each testing material per jar. Be sure the lid is properly secured.
     
  2. Shake the jar for 15 seconds to agitate the contents (or stir for 15 seconds if your container does not have a lid), simulating a flush. Be sure to shake/stir each jar with roughly the same vigor and time.
     
  3. Observe and describe the changes in the materials and ask yourself:
     Image of toilet paper roll, mason jars, and non-flushable wipes, broken down in jars of water. a. Which testing material(s) comes apart most easily?
      b. Which testing material(s) don’t come apart easily or at all?
     
  4. If desired, keep the testing materials in the jar over a longer period (even weeks) to observe the level decomposition.

 When completed, be sure to dispose of the testing material other than  the toilet paper in a waste basket (not a toilet).

Pharmaceutical Disposal

Image of a hand flushing pills down a toilet, crossed outMedicine take back options are the best way to safely dispose of unused or expired prescription and nonprescription medicines.  This is because pharmaceuticals flushed or poured down the drain can end up contaminating our waters as water treatment plants are unable to fully remove these compounds before they reach the environment.  In addition to the environmental benefits, proper pharmaceutical disposal can also reduce addiction and stem overdose deaths.

Travis County Constable Precinct 5 has a permanent pharmaceutical disposal kiosk located in the lobby. Disposal of pharmaceuticals (pills or patches) at this site is both free and anonymous.

Location: 1003 Guadalupe St., Austin, TX 78701  

Hours: Monday thru Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (short-term parking is available in the parking lot)

Unaccepted Items: Liquids, needles or sharps.

Other authorized disposal sites in the Austin area can be located using the Controlled Substance Public Disposal Location Search provided by the U.S. Department of Justice.

As an alternative to the more permanent disposal sites, twice a year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) hosts a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.  Since the start of the DEA Take Back Day Program (22 events), 1,243,752 pounds of drugs have been collected from the state of Texas alone! For more information, visit https://takebackday.dea.gov/.

Community Outreach Events

image of an Austin Water outreach booth at an eventThe Austin Water Special Services Division (SSD) regularly participates in community events to educate the public about how to “Stop the Grease Blob” and to “Only Flush Toilet Paper”.

At these events, the SSD offers free items to help you dispose of fats, oils and grease (FOG) at your residence and free educational materials for children.

Please look for our booth at the following upcoming events:

            Date                      Event               Location               
October 27, 2022 Austin Apartment Association Trade Show Palmer Events Center
November 13, 2022 Mighty Texas Dog Walk Camp Mabry
December 3, 2022 Jr. Master Naturalist Series Event:
Water and Geology
Rodolfo "Rudy" Mendez Recreation Center

If you are interested in having the Austin Water SSD participate at your event, please email event details to elizabeth.coy@austintexas.gov
Note: A request does not guarantee availability.

Community Outreach Photos
Please view photos from past events in the Austin Water SSD Community Outreach Flickr Collection.