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Toilet wipes clogging system at Hampton Roads wastewater treatment facility

Toilet paper is scarce, so people are turning to wipes and rags. But those materials are clogging the treatment systems at HRSD.

NORFOLK, Va. — Panic-buying toilet paper led to major shortages nationwide and in Hampton Roads.

Many people are turning to wipes and rags, but those materials are clogging the treatment systems at Hampton Roads Sanitation District facilities.

Toilets are built for the "three Ps"...

“Toilet paper, pee, and poop. That is essentially all that should go into the toilet,” said HRSD Communications Director Leila Rice.

But as stores struggle to stock toilet paper, Rice said wipes are clogging wastewater treatment plants.

“High volume of wipes, other non-flushable materials that came through, created a problem and there was some repair work that needed to be done,” Rice said.

Turns out even wipes labeled "flushable" are not, according to Rice. She said those materials should be thrown in the trash.

“It does not break down the way that toilet paper does,” Rice said. “Toilet paper is specifically made for wastewater treatment.”

Credit: HRSD
Photo of wipes and rags clogging HRSD wastewater treatment equipment.

So, where are the old-fashioned toiler paper rolls and why don’t stores have any?

Staff at the Colley Pharmacy and MacArthur Pharmacy said they order toilet paper regularly, but shipments are sporadic. They said they never know exactly what an order will contain when it arrives.

Charmin toilet paper’s website said they are producing and shipping at record highs. A recent USA Today article said a cause is the demand for a specific type of toilet paper.

Usually, people use the bathroom at work or restaurants, which purchase commercial-market rolls. The article said now everyone is home and they're only using their softer paper, like Charmin, adding to demand.

“The newspaper that you recycle today could be toilet paper or paper towels tomorrow,” said TFC President Mike Benedetto.

Benedetto said residential recycling is high, which is helping paper supply. But he said the plant is getting more materials they can’t process, like plastic bags.

“So, we are encouraging people to recycle and recycle right,” Benedetto said.

Toilet paper internet solutions range from washable cloths to jumping in the shower. Rice cautions other alternatives can clog pipes at home too.

“You don’t want to have that issue right now at home, especially with so many people at home,” Rice said.

Other items HRSD said people shouldn't flush:

  • Paper
  • Paper towels
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Cleaning wipes
  • “flushable” wipes
  • Wet wipes
  • Cotton balls
  • Facial tissues
  • Diapers and diaper liners

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