Dangerous items that Londoners flush down the toilet

It’s easy to throw something down the toilet and flush it away, never to be seen again, but the effects of what you flush can be severe.

Major blockages within bathroom plumbing systems and sewers are common due to unusual objects being flushed down the toilet. The result is professional plumbers having to be called out to remove blockages in the home, and millions of pounds worth of public and private funding being spent on unblocking sewers. In 2014 alone, £70 million1 had to be spent on clearing sewers, unearthing the front half of a Mini car, a Honda motorbike, and even a severed finger.

Whilst you may be unlikely to throw your motorbike down the loo, there are some other seemingly harmless objects that you may consider ditching down the drain, but this article aims to highlight the dangers of flushing everyday items down the toilet.

Baby wipes and paper towels

According to research by Thames Valley, one in five2 people admitted flushing wet wipes away. Baby wipes and paper towels are arguably the biggest burdens on water companies, causing extreme damage to sewage systems and severe blockages.

Recently, a ten-tonne lump of wet wipes and fat (also known as a ‘fatberg’) was found in a sewer in Chelsea, west London. The fatberg was 40 metres long, and was so heavy that it completely broke the Chelsea sewer. It cost Thames Water £400,000 to repair the damage and took two months to complete the works.

The number of people flushing wet wipes down the toilet is on the rise, despite environmental groups campaigning to stop people flushing wipes away, as the non-biodegradable materials threaten Britain’s marine life. Worryingly, in 2014, British beaches were washing up 50%3 more wet wipes than the year before.

Cooking oil

Putting fat, oil and grease (FOG) into your pipes is extremely bad news for yours and the city’s drainage systems, as FOG solidifies and leads to blockages. According to Southern Water, more than 3,0004 homes are flooded in the UK each year because of fat, oil and grease blockages.

Although it may be easy for us to pour these liquid substances down the drain and forget about them, they’ll eventually form a fatberg in sewers and cause severe damage and expense. Two years ago, a sewage worker tirelessly spent three weeks removing a congealed ball of fat from a sewer in Kingston upon Thames. The ball of fat was the size of a bus and weighed a mighty five tonnes.

Cigarette butts

Cigarette butts being flushed down the toilet can cause severe water pollution due to the fatally harmful chemicals they contain. This causes problems for wildlife and makes our water unsanitary.

It is estimated that 4.5 trillion5 cigarette ends are discarded across the world each year, and kill millions of birds, fish, and other animals.

Cotton buds and tampons

Cotton buds and tampons are frequently flushed down the toilet, causing severe build up in sewage systems, which will eventually have to be removed by hand.

Whilst it may seem convenient and easy to quickly flush sanitary waste away, it is actually extremely harmful because these products are not biodegradable, so only add to fatbergs.

Thames Water report clearing nearly 55,0006 blockages a year caused by a mix of fat and sanitary waste.


Condoms are difficult to flush but plenty of people manage it; sewage workers report on shapes that appear to be fish floating on the surface of sewer waters but are actually condoms, bobbing on the surface, filled with air.

Once flushed, condoms put a massive strain on sewage systems because they accumulate with other waste and block pipes as they become air-filled. A massive 10,000-tonnes7 of sewage-related litter, such as condoms, sanitary products and cotton buds, are flushed into the Thames each year.

If you have a blocked toilet or drainage system, don’t attempt to resolve the problem yourself, as a DIY-job-gone-wrong can lead to burst pipes and flooding. Instead, call in a professional plumber who can diagnose the root of the problem and safely dismantle your pipes to remove the blockage or use a high-pressure jet wash to clear your system out.

1 The Standard, 2014. Half a mini car found in London sewer as millions are spent of clearing blockages. [Online] Available at: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/half-a-mini-car-found-in-london-sewer-as-millions-is-spent-on-clearing-blockages-9872148.html.
2 The Guardian, 2015. 10-tonne fatberg removed from west London sewer. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/apr/21/huge-10-ton-fatberg-removed-chelsea-sewer-london.
3 The Guardian, 2015. Wet wipes found on British beaches up more than 50% in 2014. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/19/dont-flush-wet-wipes-toilet-conservationists.
4 Southern Water, 2015. The impact of fat, oil and grease. [Online] Available at: https://www.southernwater.co.uk/impact-of-fat-oil-grease.
5 ash, 2009. Tobacco and the environment. [Online] Available at: http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_127.pdf.
6 Thames Water, 2015. Pollution prevention. [Online] Available at: http://www.thameswater.co.uk/cr/Sustainabledrainage/Pollutionincidents/Pollutionprevention/index.html.
7 Zac Goldsmith, 2012. Supersewer essential to protect ecology of River Thames. [Online] Available at: http://www.zacgoldsmith.com/supersewer-essential-to-protect-ecology-of-river-thames/.
[All information sources accessed 15th September 2015].

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