The coronavirus is changing the world rapidly but some things remain the same—toilet paper is the only thing that should be flushed. Anything else clogs our sewers during a time when our water infrastructure is already in need of repair.

NorthJersey.com reporter, Alexis Shanes, interviewed wastewater experts about the impacts of flushable wipes on our sewers during the coronavirus in her article, “Coronavirus cleaning: Flushing that disinfectant wipe? Think again, experts say.” In the article, Shanes describes how flushed wipes can clog sewers. “Flushed items go first to waste pipes in homes and then to town sewer lines that run beneath streets, which can be as small as 18 inches. The flushed wipes eventually end up in larger pipes owned and operated by county utilities, which are as wide as 96 inches. Sewer systems rely mostly on gravity.  If wipes collect in a system, they can prevent water from flowing, like leaves in a yard drain.”

An important reminder for people who are using “flushable” wipes to disinfect groceries and take-out orders from the coronavirus is that “flushable” wipes are not biodegradable and will clog sewers and cause sewer back-ups.

Walter Marlowe, Executive Director at Water Environment Foundation, makes another important point about keeping our sewers clean during COVID-19 in Shane’s article, saying, “being self-quarantined at home can be tough. Being self-quarantined at home with a backed-up sewer is much, much worse. Do not flush things that shouldn’t be flushed.”

Plastic gloves littered across a Walmart parking lot. Photo Credit: Hudson TV page member.

On Monday, April 6, Hudson TV posted a photo on its Facebook page of plastic gloves that customers used as protection from the coronavirus, littered across a Walmart parking lot with the caption, “Please, throw away used gloves to a trash container.”  Similar posts of images of gloves and masks littered on city streets in New Jersey have been posted recently on Facebook. If these plastic gloves get into our sewers they will also cause clogs and back-ups, and put an additional strain on our water infrastructure and essential wastewater workers.

On March 27, ABC News reported on back-to-back water main breaks in Jersey City during the coronavirus. Workers were sent out to repair the water main break and a water truck was sent to neighborhoods without running water. The water main breaks sparked concerns about sanitary conditions for residents left without running water, a necessity year-round, but especially during a pandemic. While the timing of this water main break was unfortunate, it was not surprising as New Jersey’s water infrastructure is in need of repair.

Water and wastewater workers are deemed essential. They continue to repair and operate our aging water infrastructure during the coronavirus. Let’s help them keep us (and themselves!) safe and keep our sewers clean.

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