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NEWS | Nov. 4, 2019

To flush or not to flush; learn the do’s and don’ts

By Richard L. Hopewell 802nd Civil Engineering Squadron Water Quality Lead

Just because you flush human waste down the toilet doesn’t mean San Antonio Water System, or SAWS, sewers are waste disposal units.

Sewers are designed to take away wastewater from sinks and baths, as well as toilet paper and human waste flushed down the toilet. But hundreds of people cause blockages in sewers or damage to the environment by putting trash down the toilet.

Just because an item is called disposable doesn’t mean it is safe to flush. Instead you should bag it and put it in the garbage ... don’t flush it!

(Editor’s note: Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph falls under the Cibolo Creek Municipal Authority, or CMA, not SAWS.)

Our sewers are not designed to cope with modern disposable products, and as a result, these items can cause blockages.

The drains connecting your home (or place of work) to the main sewer are only big enough to carry water, toilet paper and human waste. They are often no wider than four inches. Around 75 percent of blockages involve disposable items.

To avoid drain pain and a drain on resources, remember to bag it and put in the garbage ... don’t flush it!

Disposable products, such as cotton balls, condoms, diapers and plastics can find their way into the environment if they are flushed down the drain.

To prevent damage to the environment, the following items should be disposed of in the ways recommended.

- For cotton balls, feminine products, bandages, diapers, plastics and dental floss, dispose of these in the garbage along with other household trash.

- For condoms, tampons and applicators, wrap well and dispose of in the trash.

Grease in sewer pipes causes sewer maintenance problems for the 502nd Civil Engineering Group, CCMA and SAWS. Never pour grease in your sink drain and try to use your garbage disposal less.

Grease is a byproduct of cooking. It comes from meat, lard, oil, shortening, butter, margarine, food scraps, baking goods, sauces and dairy products.

When grease washes down the sink, it sticks to the insides of the pipes that connect your home or place of work to the sewer lines that convey waste to the local sewage treatment facility.

Eventually, the grease can build up until it completely blocks sewer pipes. That can create difficult and expensive maintenance problems. Blocked sewer pipes can cause raw sewage to back up into your home or place of work, or overflow into streets and streams.

Garbage disposals don’t keep grease out of sewer pipes. Products that claim to dissolve grease may dislodge a blockage, but will only cause problems farther on down the line when the grease hardens again.

Reducing the amount of fats, oils and greases, or FOG, going down your kitchen sink prevents sewer problems.

Following the following tips helps avoid expensive sewer backups, plumbing emergencies, and resources to cover sewer maintenance and repairs, while helping protect water quality in your community.

  • Do recycle used cooking oil or properly dispose of it by pouring it into a sealable container and placing the sealed container in the trash.
  • Do scrape food scraps into the trash, not the sink.
  • Do wipe pots, pans, and dishes with dry paper towels before rinsing or washing them. Then throw away the paper towels.
  • Do place a catch basket or screen over the sink drain when rinsing dishware or when peeling or trimming food to catch small scraps that would otherwise be washed down the drain. Throw the scraps in the trash.
  • Do rinse dishes and pans with cold water before putting them in the dishwasher. Hot water melts the FOG off the dishes and into the sewer pipes. When these go into the sewer, the hot water will cool and the FOG will clog the pipes.
  • Don’t use a garbage disposal or food grinder. Grinding food up before rinsing it down the drain does not remove FOG; it just makes the pieces smaller. Even non-greasy food scraps can plug your home’s sewer lines. Don’t put food of any kind down the drain.
  • Don’t pour cooking oil, pan drippings, bacon grease, salad dressings or sauces down the sink or toilet or into street gutters or storm drains.
  • Don’t use cloth towels or rags to scrape plates or clean greasy or oily dishware. When you wash them, the grease will end up in the sewer.
  • Don’t run water over dishes, pans, fryers, and griddles to wash oil and grease down the drain.