The coronavirus shitshow rages on. Toilet paper shortages persist in supermarkets across Australia, and in lieu of their trusty eight-pack of Quilton, desperate defecators are resorting to using all kinds of household materials to wipe their asses—hand towels, the morning paper, clothing. The sorts of things that plumbers might refer to as “non-flushable products”. And it’s wreaking havoc on the country’s sewerage system.
Rhett Duncan from south-east Queensland's Unitywater told the ABC his crews were discovering that people had started using “all sorts of things in these desperate times—old clothes is one of those, newspapers, and wet wipes and paper towel.” Scott Moorhead from Townsville Water also reported that “rags are quite common… but even kitchen cloths”, while Michelle Cull, a spokesperson for Brisbane's Urban Utilities declared that a "poonami" of wet wipes was pouring into treatment plants and pump stations.
"One of the most shocking sights is the huge volume of wipes we're removing from the screens at our pump stations every day," she said.
The thing about toilet paper, as it turns out, is that it’s designed to break down post-flush and usually doesn’t pose any real issues in the way of blockages and clogged pipes. Your old Radiohead shirt or the wipes you use to scrub the shower, on the other hand, will cause some problems—both for the public sewerage system and the home plumbing. And that could end up costing you, the noncompliant wiper, hundreds or even thousands of dollars for repairs.
"The majority of blocked drains are caused by people flushing wipes down the toilet and the costs can run into the thousands," Mick Bradley, general manager of RTL Trades, told the ABC. "At a minimum, you'll be looking at around $400 to $500 to have a CCTV inspection carried out and the blockage cleared."
That is, of course, the last thing anyone needs right now. If you don’t want to risk it, Duncan from Unitywater recommends that the only things you flush are "pee, poo, and toilet paper”.
"We understand if people don't have toilet paper—they have to do what they have to do to get the job done," he said. "But if it's not toilet paper, it doesn't belong in the toilet. Don't flush it. Bag it. Bin it."