How you clean your home right now could impact the environment

May 13 2020, 12:35 pm

Metro Vancouverites have been spending a lot more time at home since social distancing measures came into effect.

We’re now also cleaning more than ever. Reorganizing cabinets, vacuuming underneath furniture, and regularly disinfecting high-touch areas are a part of our new routine. (Simply going out for pizza seemed more important than this a few months ago.)

What might surprise some is that all that cleaning could be doing harm where you thought it might be doing good.

When disposable wipes are flushed, they can cause massive problems for our sewer systems, and we can all imagine what that looks like. But what about those wipes that are labelled flushable?

There is currently no regulatory standard in Canada for what products can be labelled as flushable — something a group of Canadian municipalities is working to change. But for now, we can do our part to help.


Although wipes (antibacterial, hygienic, baby, or cosmetic) may disappear when you flush the toilet, they don’t break down fast enough (or at all) in the wastewater system. This can lead to microplastics in our ocean, damage to our homes, sewage overflows, and unnecessary clogs.

Metro Vancouver workers have experienced this first-hand with teams having to manually remove blockages two to three times per week at some local pumping stations. Meanwhile, sewer workers have pulled clogs of material weighing over 80 lbs from regional pumping stations.

The Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group (MESUG) reports that approximately $250 million in Canadian taxpayer dollars are used to clean up damage caused by wipes and other non-flushable products every year. Metro Vancouver spends at least $100,000 annually to de-clog regional pump stations, on top of replacing damaged equipment.

Although it’s easy to feel like we can’t do much while stuck at home, how we choose to dispose of wipes can help keep our pipes working properly and maintain a healthy environment. If it isn’t pee, poo, or toilet paper, it needs to go in the trash — it’s as simple as that.

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