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Don’t Flush it All Away: How to Properly Dispose of Waste
Don’t Flush it All Away: How to Properly Dispose of Waste Image

When signing a lease or walking into a public bathroom, you’re likely to see statements about what shouldn’t be flushed down the drain. At first glance, these requests may seem unnecessary to you; however, they are actually helping protect our environment! This article will be your guide to what you can and can’t put down the drain and provide you with alternative methods of disposal. 


Down the Drain and Off to Where? 

Whenever you use your washing machine or dishwasher, flush your toilet, or drain your sink, the water doesn’t just disappear. It actually travels through your city’s sanitary sewer system to reach a wastewater treatment plant. At the plant, the water is cleaned through a multi-step chemical engineering process and then released into our local waterways. Some water may also be recycled. Want to learn more about what recycled water is and its process? Read more about it on our last blog article. This means that all water is connected — the water you use eventually returns to and affects your local watershed, aquatic life, and community.


Draining Responsibly

Here is a list of the several items that you should never attempt to put down a drain or flush down a toilet and why. 

  • Medications: While it may have been common in the past to flush unused drugs down the toilet, some pharmaceuticals contain ingredients which are not removed at the wastewater treatment plant. The chemicals can then enter and pollute our watershed. 
  • Cleaning products, pesticides, herbicides, automotive fluids, oils, paints: All of these items are considered household hazardous waste (HHW). These products cannot go down the drain because they are inorganic, toxic, or corrosive and wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to treat them. When you flush HHW down the drain, they go straight to polluting our water!
  • Flushable wipes: This may be a big surprise to you! The label of ‘flushable’ in this scenario is misleading, as most wipes are made of synthetic fibers and do not disintegrate in water like toilet paper. This can cause major blockages to sewage pipes. 
  • Paper towels, menstrual products, diapers, condoms, or dental floss: These items are not designed to break down in water and will clog your pipes or even cause a sewage overflow. 
  • Fats, oils, and grease: Just as eating too many greasy foods can cause buildup in your circulatory system, draining household greases down the sink can cause buildup and blockages in sewage pipes. Items like milk, cooking oil, and gravy should not be washed down the drain. 


What’s the cost? 

While it may be tempting to adopt an “out of sight out of mind” attitude about your drain, your moments of supposed ease may actually be costing you. Improper flushing can cause costly repairs! It can cost $200 to unclog a pipe within your home and around $500 to replace a sewage pump. A blocked main sewer line or overflow can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000 to fix and a corroded pipe line from flushed HHW can cost even more! And those are just the direct costs: public treatment plants can also be damaged by improper flushing. For example, ‘flushable’ wipe blockages can cost a public treatment plant up to $500,000 to fix!


Your Environmental Impact

But what happens when our waste makes it through the treatment plant and into the rivers, lakes or coastal waters? One consequence is the creation of microplastics. Microplastics are very small (5 mm or less) pieces of plastic that accumulate in the ocean. These plastics are harmful because they are eaten by smaller ocean creatures and work their way up the food chain. It’s possible that you’ve eaten a fish with microplastics inside of it! Plastic pieces can also cause the aquatic animals who mistake it for food to choke. Chemical pollutants are another consequence. Excess chemicals that make it into the ocean can cause rapid algae growth, which prevents other wildlife from surviving in that area. 


How to Properly Dispose of Waste

You can help protect our aquatic allies, communities, and waterways by properly disposing of your waste rather than putting it down the drain! To dispose of old medications, return drugs to a pharmaceutical take-back program or mix it with undesirable waste (e.g. cat litter) and dispose in landfill. Drop off HHW at any of LA Sanitation’s S.A.F.E. Centers. Always throw away flushable wipes, paper towels, menstrual products, diapers, condoms, and dental floss in landfill containers. And finally, pour fats, oils, and greases into disposable containers before placing them in your trash can. 

Have any other questions about disposing waste? Feel free to contact us on lastormwater@lacity.org

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