Pee, Poop and Paper Only, Please!

By Nick Schou   |   April 2, 2020
Your wipes are not wanted here

Eagle-eyed readers of this esteemed journal may have noticed the Montecito Sanitary District’s public service ads that have run in the paper the last two weeks urging residents not to flush wet wipes down the drain. “SAVE YOUR PIPES, DON’T FLUSH WIPES!” the announcement reads, informing customers that supposedly flushable disinfectant wipes can clog both household pipes and mainline backups as well as the machinery in the MSD’s sanitary plant.

Steven Morelos, an MSD collections systems operator, preparing to remove wipes from a valve

This public warning is serious business. When I took a tour of the facility a few months ago, I got a glance at the plant’s rotary grinders, which while capable of destroying organic material like sticks or roots, can easily be jammed by rags or wipes, which must be retrieved by hand, a process that is just as gross as it sounds.

“We can usually handle the type of wipes that are truly biodegradable,” Diane Gabriel, MSD’s general manager, told me. “But with everyone now using all these sanitary wipes that are a lot tougher than the other kind, these are clogging the pumps and various valves we have.” According to Gabriel, the clogs and jams raise the risk of waste overflowing at the plant or spilling elsewhere along the line. “We don’t want an overflow,” she said. “We monitor it all remotely so when a pump starts lagging or running hot – taking more time to pump the same amount of wastewater – we know there is something wrong. We hope people can do their part by being conscious of what they are putting down the drain.”

Alex Alonzo, MSD’s operations and maintenance manager, couldn’t agree more. “Whenever anyone on our staff has to go down to clean out a clog, they have to put on all their personal protective equipment (PPE) gear: rubber gloves, goggles, and Tyvek suits,” he said, the latter item being the white hazardous protective suits you usually see in movies. “It’s a whole process,” he says. “We are really encouraging people to toss those wipes into the trash where they belong.”


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