Residents encouraged to ‘Bin It, Don’t Flush It’

A new campaign to reduce the number of non-flushable items ending up in the sewer system has been launched by Cairns Regional Council.

The “Bin It, Don’t Flush It” campaign is targeted at the hundreds of tonnes of disposable wipes that are flushed down the loo each year, potentially wreaking havoc on the city’s sewer system.

Disposable wipes make up about 40% of the 500 tonnes of non-flushable items that are extracted from the Cairns sewer system each year.

The “Bin it, Don’t Flush It” campaign is being rolled out on buses, as well as through multiple media platforms, to remind residents and visitors of the need to think twice before flushing disposable wipes.

Cairns Mayor Bob Manning said sewer and pipe blockages as a result of non-flushable items cost Council $800,000 annually.

“That is a costly problem that can be easily avoided just be taking the time to dispose of items, such as disposable wipes, in the proper manner,” Cr Manning said.

“Even if it says flushable on them, they’re probably not going to break down in the wastewater system and will contribute to the problem, so it best to take a cautious approach and bin them too.”

When combined with grease and other cooking fats improperly sent down drains, wipes can congeal and form massive “fatbergs”, which block pumps and pipes.

There have been a number of large fatbergs found is sewer systems in Australia, including:

  • A three-tonne mass made up of wipes, clothing, plastic, and other items was removed from a pump station in Mackay in 2020
  • A massive fatberg weighing 42 tonnes took nine hours to remove from a Melbourne sewer in 2020
  • In 2016 a seven-metre, 750-kilogram snake-like conglomerate that included used wet wipes was found in Lake Macquarie, New South Wales.

“Although Cairns has not experienced anything like that, we did remove a 300kg fatberg from the Southern Wastewater Treatment Plant last year, which highlights just how much of a problem these masses of non-flushable items can cause,” Cr Manning said.

“With an average of 200 tonnes of disposable wipes, the equivalent of 18 school buses, removed from sewers in Cairns each year, there is a lot of potential for blockages.

“The result can be sewage backing up into homes or overflowing into the environment – either way the outcome is both unpleasant and costly.”

Other common non-flushable items ending up in the Cairns sewer system include cotton buds, baby and face wipes, household cleaning wipes, tissues, tampons, condoms, nappies and cigarette butts.

“All these items can lead to blockages,” Cr Manning said.

“Only the three Ps should be flushed down the toilet — pee, poo and (toilet) paper.

“It’s about maintaining and managing our critical infrastructure to ensure it is in working order for the community.

“We all need to take responsibility and bin it, don’t flush it.”

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