Think Before You Flush, a campaign operated by Clean Coasts in partnership with Uisce Éireann, joined forces with Maynooth University to for a canal clean up organised by the university’s Green Campus team. During the clean-up, the team shared information about the campaign and asked students, staff, and the wider community to make small changes at home that will have a big impact on our environment.
Think Before You Flush addresses the issue of flushing unsuitable items down the toilet and highlights the consequences of doing so, such as blockages in our wastewater network and treatment plants, surface water overflows and sewage related litter on our beaches and in our oceans, damaging our marine environment. Many toiletries, such as wet wipes, cotton pads and dental floss, are part of the ‘Dirty Dozen’, which are the top 12 items that are incorrectly flushed down the toilet in Ireland. Other items include hair; paper towels; medicine; tampons; food items; contact lenses; condoms; cigarette butts; and cotton bud sticks.
There is no denying that these items are incredibly useful. Many people love the convenience of disposable wet wipes, facial pads and dental floss but are unaware of the problems associated with these items when inappropriately flushed down the toilet. Research has found that just over one in five adults regularly admit to flushing these items which are well known for causing blockages, leading to detrimental effects on the wastewater network and the marine environment. Unlike toilet paper, which is designed to disintegrate quickly in our pipes and sewage systems, other items do not break down so easily.
Clean Coasts also shared information about their Think Before You Pour campaign. This campaign looks at the issue of pouring fats, oils, and greases (FOGs) from cooking down the kitchen sink. Instead of flowing freely, the FOGs cool and harden as they travel along the wastewater network. When these FOGs combine with wipes and other sewage related litter such as hair and dental floss, fatbergs can form. Uisce Éireann clears hundreds of blockages including fatbergs from the wastewater network every week. The Think Before Pour campaign urges everyone to avoid washing or pouring FOGs down the kitchen drain and, instead, dispose of them in the bin once sufficiently cool.
Liane Costello is a campaign officer with Clean Coasts and speaking about the event said, “We were delighted to be invited to Maynooth University to share our campaign. It is of the utmost importance that we talk to people of all ages about the Think Before You Flush campaign. Sewage related litter and our wastewater concerns us all. The key takeaway is to remember to only flush the 3 P’s (pee, poo and paper), and that everything else goes in the bin.”
Lead and Uisce Éireann’s Think Before You Flush Ambassador, Donal Heaney knows only too well the detrimental effect that the dirty dozen can have on the environment. “The dirty dozen when flushed down the toilets of Ireland impact all aspects of the environment clumping together and causing blockages in our household plumbing and sewerage network, causing wastewater flooding of homes and gardens. Many of these items end up in streams, rivers and on our beaches, creating a significant threat to wildlife as seabirds often ingest plastic and sewage related litter, mistaking it for food.”
Donal added, “Sewage related litter is polluting our marine, coastal, and river environments and putting unnecessary pressure on Ireland’s wastewater infrastructure. Every single person in Ireland can play their part in ensuring that toilets are used for their intended purpose; pee, poo, and paper. We hope the students here enjoyed the workshop and will continue to Think Before You Flush.” Local groups, Maynooth Tidy Towns, Zero Waste Maynooth, Maynooth University EnviroSoc, MUCK (Maynooth University Canoeing & Kayaking Club), and MSU (Maynooth Student’s Union) also participated at the event.
What can you do?
In the bathroom:
- Put a bin in your bathroom. You can also download some of our Think Before You Flush printable resources and stick them up as a reminder.
- Switch to reusable options – items like facial cloths and reusable cotton pads are great alternatives.
In the kitchen:
- Pour FOGs into a heatproof container (jar, tin, egg carton), allow to cool and empty into a bin (food waste recycling bin if you have one, otherwise the general waste bin. Note: FOGs are not suitable for home composting).
- Wipe and scrape plates and saucepans before washing.
- Use a strainer in your kitchen sink, and empty into the bin.
Join the campaign at https://thinkbeforeyouflush.org/ and follow @CleanCoasts on social media.