The Gibraltar Government is working on a sustained campaign to prevent the increasing number of items such as wet wipes that are being flushed down toilets and blocking drains.
“These materials are the root cause of almost all blockages encountered locally, blockages which could be avoided if these products were disposed of appropriately,” a government spokesman said.
This follows questions from the Chronicle after the UK introduced a “fine to flush” symbol for wet wipes that had passed strict tests to ensure they would not contribute to sewer “fatbergs” – or blockages.
In 2014, the Gibraltar Government announced a six-year campaign to improve the sewage system in Gibraltar at a cost of around £8m.
The following year it launched a campaign aimed at preventing further damage to the Rock’s sewage system by asking people only to flush “paper, pee and poo” down.
Any other items such as baby wipes, sanitary products and nappies should be bagged if necessary and placed in a bin. Items such as cooking oil and paint should be disposed of safely and correctly via Government facilities.
The campaign focused on the life of Dwaine Pipe, a cartoon sewage pipe who is fed up of people flushing down the toilet items other than the three P’s – Paper, Pee, Poo. When a person flushes anything other than the three P’s down the loo Dwaine Pipe gets sick.
This campaign was relatively successful.
“Since the start of this campaign there has been a real shift in attitude towards this issue, with many people changing their habits,” said the government spokesman.
“The greatest success has been with the school visits, with parents approaching and informing us of how much the children involved enjoyed the visits, even going as far to say that they themselves have been educated thanks to the handouts provided.”
“It would seem that whilst this ongoing campaign has had somewhat of an immediate impact on the public, the real fruits of this labour will be experienced in years to come as the children grow up with an understanding of this issue.”
However, the campaign was not enough to prevent people from flushing items such as wet wipes and, in fact, the number of unsuitable materials being flushed has increased.
Acknowledging that at times it is difficult to change people’s habits, the Technical Services Department along with Aquagib, the Environmental Agency, the Ministry for Housing and the Housing Works Agency will once again embark on a campaign to try and make the public aware of the consequences of flushing such objects.
“The Government is currently working on a continued, more sustained campaign to ensure that as many people as possible are informed of the problems we have experienced.”
“Unfortunately we have a culture which believes that once an item is flushed it is gone and forgotten about but these items end up grouping together causing far larger problems than most of the public are aware of,” said a government spokesman in 2015 when the campaign was first launched.
Large volume of wipes, rags and paper hand towels cause the majority of the problems as these are items, which do not break down once flushed.
“Once they’re in a main sewer run they group together forming large mounds of debris, these mounds eventually grow big enough to block sewer pipes, even pipes of considerable size,” he said.
In addition to flushing away wet wipes, sanitary products and nappies people are also flushing away large amounts of food waste, such as clam shells, chicken bones, cooking oils and fats.
The disposal of these non-flushable items – despite what some products claim – is costing Gibraltar not just financially but in non-financial ways too due to the aggravation and inconvenience to the public when blockages need to be attended to.
While working on a sewer, especially a main sewer, huge amounts of gases which cause foul smells are released.
Foul smells also builds even when work isn’t being carried out. A large volume of foreign debris within the pipework slows down the flow, solids settle and eventually become septic, increasing the release of hydrogen sulphide, which gives off a smell of rotting eggs.
Hydrogen sulphide is highly corrosive, especially to older generation concrete which is what was used for the construction of Gibraltar’s main sewer in the late 1800s.
The corrosion of the sewers in turn compounds the problem.