7 Things You Need to Stop Flushing Down the Toilet
Your motto for the day: The toilet is not a trash can.
Just because you flushed it, doesn’t mean it’s gone. Your toilet isn’t equipped to handle anything but what comes out of your body and toilet paper. Yet, we’re guilty of flushing a whole lot of weird stuff down the toilet, including towels, cleaning sponges, kitty litter, and latex gloves, says Travis Loop, spokesperson for the Water Environment Federation (WEF), a nonprofit association for water quality professionals in Washington, D.C.
But it turns out that some of the things that you’ve been flushing for forever (like tampons!) don’t belong there either.
Why should you watch what you flush? Aside from the potential to clog your drains (and the resulting pricey plumber visit), “there are damages that can occur down the system in pipes after it leaves your house and travels to the water treatment plant,” says Loop. These damages cost the water treatment facility money, something that can be passed back to consumers in the form of a higher water bill. Then, there’s the fact that after water is treated, it flows back into local bodies of water; some things (like residuals from drugs or plastics) can’t be fully filtered out, which can harm the environment and water life.
For the health of your home, the water supply, and the environment, here are seven things you should keep out of your toilet. Please toss these in the trash instead.
Yes, they say “disposable” right there on the package—and the directions might even give you the A-OK to flush, but... don’t. “Flushing paper towels or wipes down the toilet is causing big problems for sewer systems,” says Loop. These collect together to form what are called “fatbergs,” which clog up sewers and take a great amount of manpower to break apart and dispose. (If you’re not eating lunch, check out this article about a monstrous fatberg in London.)
Nearly 20% of contact wearers flush their lenses down the toilet, according to new preliminary research from Arizona State University. And why wouldn’t you—they’re so small! But lately, there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding the environmental impact of single-use plastics (like straws), and contact lenses are no different. The ASU researchers found that after treatment through a wastewater system, contact lenses degrade into microplastic particles, something that can pollute waterways and harm the organisms that live in them.
Drugs shouldn’t go down the drain. When these hit the wastewater treatment plants, tiny amounts of the medication compounds survive the filtering process and make their way into creeks, streams, and rivers, says Loop. While they haven’t been shown to pose a risk to human health, they do harm the environment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). No reason to let your old meds stick around—look for a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day in your area. (The next one is October 27, 2018.)
Oh gosh, please don’t try to flush bacon grease or melted butter down the loo. “If you pour liquid animal fat into a bowl, it hardens when it cools. If you pour it down any drain at home, it will solidify in the pipes in your house,” says Loop. That will make for a big clog that you’ll need a professional to address. Skip the headache and dispose of this in the garbage.
If there’s one takeaway here, it’s this: Only the three Ps belong in the potty–pee, poo, and paper, says Loop. That means used tampons do not belong. Unfortunately, it seems way easier to flush something like a tampon than to deal with the ick of wrapping it up in toilet paper and putting in the trash. However, they’re designed to be biodegradable in landfills—not the sewer. “Tampons cannot be processed by wastewater treatment facilities, and they can harm septic systems,” advises Tampax on their website.
Also not one of those three Ps? Used condoms. Like with tampons, it might seem more convenient (aka less messy) to peel off a rubber and flush it, but latex doesn’t belong in your toilet. “Dispose of a used condom by wrapping it in tissue and throwing it in the trash,” advises Trojan on their website–a sentiment also echoed by the CDC.
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Don’t dump bug spray, or other chemicals (including drain cleaners, furniture polish, tub and tile cleaners, or any liquids used for your garden or garage) into a toilet or drain. According to WEF, these are considered hazardous wastes that need to be disposed of in designated community collection facilities. Some areas have one-day events in the spring and fall where you can drop these off. Check with local environmental or health agencies to find events and facilities close to your home.