Northumbrian Water has identified the NE34 7 area of South Shields as a hot spot for wipes being found in sewer blockages and is sending a crack team to help change people’s poor flushing habits to protect homes and the environment.
The team is part of the company’s Bin The Wipe campaign, which was established in 2020 after wipes were found to have caused or contributed to 64% of the 16,500 blockages in the North East’s sewer network in 2019.
To tackle the issue, the company analyses where wipes are found in the sewer to identify where the problem is worst and then focuses the campaign in those areas.
The NE34 7 area is the region’s most prolific location for customers flushing wipes and, having taken a previous approach in the area some years ago, only to see the behaviour return after the campaign, Northumbrian Water is going back with Bin The Wipe.
Letters are sent to customers in the hot spot, helping them understand why flushing wipes is a problem and how this can lead to blockages that force waste back into people’s homes or out into the environment.
The sewer workers then move into the area and monitor the network, finding wipes and tracking the flushing back upstream, narrowing down where they have come from until they are able to have face-to-face conversations with the customers responsible.
As areas are narrowed down, customers receive update letters which also explain that persistent flushing can result in the cost of blockages being recharged or even, in extreme circumstances, prosecution under the Water Industry Act 1991.
The new South Shields hot spot adds to existing areas already covered by the campaign, which include areas of Washington, Gateshead, Bowburn, Newton Aycliffe and Darlington.
Simon Cyhanko, Head of Wastewater Networks at Northumbrian Water, said: “Wipes are the number one item found to be involved in blockages, which can have a horrendous impact on customers by forcing waste back into their homes.
“We want to stop that happening, and if we all stopped flushing wipes, it would have a massive impact on the number of blockages that occur, making a big difference for our customers and the environment.
“You wouldn’t use your bin as a toilet, so why use your toilet as a bin? We understand that some packaging says that some wipes are ‘flushable’, but just because something disappears around the u-bend, doesn’t mean it can’t still snag or settle in a pipe and cause a problem.
“And it may not even be that a blockage from the wipe you flush causes a problem for you, it could end up in a horrific experience for a neighbour, friend or loved one.
“So please, whether you live in a hot spot or not, put any wipe you use in the bin, not down the toilet. Please, bin the wipe.”
To help customers understand more, Northumbrian Water has created an FAQ at www.nwl.co.uk/binthewipe, answering questions like “what if the label says ‘flushable’?” (still please don’t flush it) and “can you really track wipes back to the homes that flushed them?” (yes we can, we have and we will).