19 August 2021
By Tom Collins
In 2021 Irish Water commissioned a survey of the nation’s flushing behaviour. 1,019 adults aged 18+ were surveyed by Behaviour & Attitudes in 2021. Where relevant, comparisons to a similar survey undertaken in 2018 and 2019 are made and assist us in our understanding of the nation’s flushing behaviour over this 3-year period.
- Almost one million adults living in Ireland admit to regularly flushing wet wipes and other sanitary items down the toilet
- One in four adults (24%) regularly admit to flushing items down the toilet that are known to cause blockages in our wastewater network and treatment plants. Although this incidence rate is still too high, it represents a positive 33% improvement in the Nations flushing behaviour which was 36% in 2018.
- Historically, the flushing of wipes were the most common items causing blockages in our wastewater network, leading to environmental pollution. Over the last 3-year period we have seen a positive 38% reduction in people flushing wipes down the toilet. This was 18% in 2018, now 11% in 2021. Representing an improvement of 39%. However, more than 1 in ten people still admit to flushing wipes down the toilet.
- The most common items being flushed down the toilet (in descending order) are hair, wipes (any), paper towels, toilet wipes, dental floss, cleaning wipes, any other type of wipe, tampons, baby wipes, facial wipes, cotton buds, cigarette butts.
- The frequency of sewage-related littering is highest in younger age profiles with a third of under 35s admitting to regularly flushing unsuitable items down the toilet (compared to the average of 24% for all adults), but this age profile has seen continued improvement in the reduction of this environmentally harmful behaviour. This was 52% in 2018, now 32% in 2021. Representing an improvement of 39%
Cork is a big county and has a significant number of vistors every year. Tonnes of wipes and ragging is removed annually from pumps and Wastewater Treatment Plants and this is foul material that needs to be disposed of. In addition to that Irish Water also clear hundreds of blockages across the wastewater network in County Cork every year.
Speaking about the survey results Neil O’Riordan, Irish Water said, “In 2018, our research informed us that 36% of people living in Ireland were regularly flushing the wrong things down the toilet. Working in partnership with Clean Coasts on the Think Before You Flush campaign we have made some progress as 24% of respondents in this year’s survey admit to regularly doing so. Whilst this improvement is welcome, 24% represents almost a million people. The impacts of flushing the wrong things down the toilet are stark, as we are still removing thousands of sewer blockages from our network every month.
“Removing blockages can be a nasty job, sometimes workers have to enter sewers to remove blockages with shovels. Some blockages can be removed with jetting and suction equipment. I’ve seen pump blockages that workers have had to literally clear by hand in order to get the pumps up and running again in a race against time to avoid sewage overflows to the environment.
“Our message is simple, only the 3 Ps, pee, poo and paper should be flushed down the toilet. All other items including wet wipes and other sanitary products should go in the bin even if they are labelled as flushable. This will reduce the number of sewer blockages, the risk of flooding to homes and businesses and the risk of pollution in the environment harming wildlife such as fish and birds and associated habitats. We have all seen the images of sea birds being impacted by marine litter and we all have a role to play in protecting our beaches, seas and marine life. A small change in our flushing behaviour can make a big difference – put wipes, cotton bud sticks and sanitary items in the bin and not down the toilet”
Speaking about the campaign, Sinead McCoy, Clean Coasts said, “The Think Before You Flush campaign, through education and awareness, aims to prevent items like wipes, cotton bud sticks and sanitary items washing up on Ireland’s spectacular beaches. While we have seen a positive improvement in the nations flushing behaviour since 2018, one in four adults still admit to regularly flushing unsuitable items down the toilet. By making small changes in our flushing behaviour, we can prevent the harm caused by sewage related litter in our marine environment. We are asking everybody to only flush the 3 P’s – pee, poo and paper, and put everything else in the bin.”