Queensland’s ongoing sewerage crisis has escalated in the past 12 months, with the COVID-19 pandemic responsible for more “avalanches” of nondegradables.
Queensland’s ongoing sewerage crisis has escalated in the past 12 months, with the COVID-19 pandemic responsible for more “avalanches” of nondegradables.

COVID playing dirty role in Qld’s toilet problems

"Avalanches" of nondegradable items are clogging pipes and blocking pumps, with Queenslanders flushing tonnes more wet wipes amid the COVID toilet paper crisis.

Urban Utilities data reveals that southeast Queensland flushed around 11 tonnes more wet wipes down their toilets last year amid the coronavirus lockdown and toilet paper panic, while treatment plants had also seen an increase in masks and disposable gloves being flushed.

Wet wipes on the screens at Eagle Farm sewerage pump station. Picture: Urban Utilities
Wet wipes on the screens at Eagle Farm sewerage pump station. Picture: Urban Utilities

The company - which provides water to Brisbane, Ipswich and other smaller southeast Queensland councils - currently spends more than $1 million each year clearing blockages from the region's sewerage system.

"We're still seeing an avalanche of wet wipes arriving at our sites every day, but our operators certainly saw a spike during the toilet paper panic in March last year," Urban Utilities spokeswoman Michelle Cull said.

In total some 135 tonnes of wet wipes - the equivalent of around 23 African elephants - arrived at southeast Queensland sewage treatment plants last year, an increase of around 10.8 tonnes, or eight per cent, compared to the year before.

Wet wipes at Beaudesert sewage treatment plant. Picture: Urban Utilities
Wet wipes at Beaudesert sewage treatment plant. Picture: Urban Utilities

Ms Cull said Urban Utilities had also seen "an increase in disposable gloves" as well as the occasional face mask arriving at sewerage plants.

Wet wipes - which don't degrade like toilet paper - congeal with fats and cooking oils that are poured down the drain to form drain-clogging "fatbergs" around the sewerage network.

"The problem with items like wet wipes is they don't disintegrate quickly like toilet paper after they're flushed," Ms Cull said.

"They get stuck on screens at pump stations and treatment plants and need to be manually cleared and trucked off to landfill."

Urban Utilities plant manager Mandy Murchison at the Bundamba treatment plant. Picture: Urban Utilities
Urban Utilities plant manager Mandy Murchison at the Bundamba treatment plant. Picture: Urban Utilities

Ms Cull said Urban Utilities treats 140 Olympic swimming pools of sewage from more than 1.5 million people every day at an annual cost of more than $1 million.

"Flushing the wrong things down the toilet can lead to blockages in our sewerage network and cause costly problems in household plumbing too."

 

Originally published as COVID playing dirty role in Qld's million-dollar sewerage crisis


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