Typically, the average person will flush their toilet 7-10 times per day, or 2,555-3,650 times per year, which, when you think about it, is a lot of waste. Not just natural waste either. People will flush pretty much anything they feel like flushing, such as wipes, feminine products, Kleenex, hair, floss, q-tips, cotton balls, etc. Wastewater treatment operators even run into some more atypical items such as clothing, toys, wrappers, jewelry, and even money!

Now, let’s put this into perspective. Picture one apartment complex with 100 tenants. That’s 700-1,000 toilet flushes per day or 255,500-365,000 flushes per year. Most standard toilets these days flush 1.6 gallons per flush, which equates to 408,800-584,000 gallons of water per year. And all of those gallons of water are filled with the “stuff” that people put into their toilets. So, again, that’s a lot of waste

Truck dumping waste that was removed from the sewer lines

Photo courtesy of City of San Diego Public Utilities Department

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Why am I reading this blog?” which is a good question. But, maybe you’re also asking yourself, “Where does that waste even go?” and that’s an even better question. What most people don’t realize is that flushing these items can create huge problems for wastewater treatment plants. 

Now, as gross as this may be, it’s the cold, hard truth: waste that is either non-biodegradable, or waste just takes longer to biodegrade, gathers together, and creates “rags” in the pumps and pipes of the wastewater system. 

Photo courtesy of City of San Diego Public Utilities Department

Rags are the formation of large gatherings of, well, basically garbage, that gets flushed down the toilet (clumps of hair, kids toys, socks, and other yucky stuff we won’t mention) which can clog pipes and create problems for the system itself. The rags can get stuck in the mixers and rotors inside the treatment system, which can cause permanent damage to them. The process of replacing these parts is expensive (tens-of-thousands-of-dollars-expensive, taxpayers!) and time-consuming. The operators have to remove the rags and clear the systems so that clogging and damage don’t occur within the pipes, which is how they find those lovely discarded items we mentioned earlier (that’s probably where your missing diamond ring went!!!). Guess where the rags go once they’re removed? The landfill, which is where your regular trash goes anyways. 

Even before this wastewater arrives at the treatment plants, it can get stuck in your pipes at home and cause a mainline clog, which would not be fun to deal with. Why bother with calling your local plumber and having them snake your entire plumbing system out (which can be quite expensive) when you could just throw your trash in the trash can? Keeping trash where it belongs will keep you and your local wastewater treatment operators happy.

Crew unclogging waste water rags from city pipes

Photo courtesy of City of San Diego Public Utilities Department

Sidenote: as mentioned before, trash and the discarded rags end up in a landfill, where plastic and other non-biodegradable products will remain for the rest of eternity, basically. This can be avoided by using reusable/biodegradable products in your bathroom. They can not only save you money in the long run, but they’ll limit the amount of trash being thrown into landfills.

So, to summarize—and let us be as straightforward as possible—we should only be flushing toilet paper, pee, and poop

Just remember W.T.F. (What to Flush)!