A team of crack sewer workers are heading for Darlington as Northumbrian Water brings its war on wipes to the town in a bid to protect homes and the environment.
The water company’s Bin The Wipe campaign involves using innovative tools to track wrongly-flushed items back to the homes they came from and helping customers to understand that flushing wipes can cause sewer flooding in homes and damage to the environment.
The aim is to reduce blockages in sewers and their devastating consequences, by tackling the biggest cause – wipes that are flushed down the loo. In 2020, more than 60% of blockages found across the company’s sewer network contained wipes, which do not break up and can snag or settle in pipes and cause build-ups.
Customers in the DL1 4 and DL3 0 postcode areas, which are hot spots identified as areas with a high volume of blockages containing wipes, will initially receive letters explaining the problems caused by flushing wipes.
Then, the Bin the Wipe team will be based in those areas, clearing blockages and identifying where wipes have been flushed. As the search narrows to streets and even individual properties, Northumbrian Water will continue to try to encourage people to stop flushing wipes through direct conversations and, where necessary, letters.
Those who continue to flush wipes will be warned of the company’s ability to recharge the cost of clearing blockages, or even, in extreme circumstances, prosecute for offences under the Water Industry Act 1991.
Bin The Wipe was launched in January 2020 and has so far focused on areas on Teesside, where flushing wipes was a known problem. This has reduced the number wipes found in the sewer network by more than 60%, without the need to take any recharge or prosecution action.
Later in the year, once their initial work in Darlington is complete, the team will move into areas of Ferryhill, Newton Aycliffe, Spennymoor and Bishop Auckland, which are also problem areas for flushing.
Simon Cyhanko, Northumbrian Water’s Head of Wastewater Networks, said: “Wipes that have been flushed down the loo are the biggest cause of blockages in our sewers, which threatens people’s homes, businesses and the environment with flooding.
“When a sewer gets blocked, all the waste people flush away is stopped in its tracks and can only go either back to where it came from or out into the environment. That is the worst thing that can happen to a customer in relation to our network, so we want to stop such unnecessary problems at their root cause.
“Even those wipes that come in packages that claim they are ‘flushable’ can cause problems, because they don’t break down like loo roll and can start or contribute to blockages.
“We can use our team’s specially created tools to trace flushed wipes directly back to homes, and we are able to take action against people who keep flushing them. However, we’ve found in the areas we’ve taken Bin The Wipe already that customers are generally willing to make that simple change in their behaviour once they understand the consequences.
“We’re hoping that we can work with the people of Darlington in the same way and make a massive difference when it comes to protecting their homes and the local environment.
“It’s a simple change to make that costs nothing. All we ask is that people stop using their toilets as bins and Bin The Wipe.”