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Six water companies back sanitary disposal bag initiative

Six of the UK's major water companies have joined an initiative to distribute disposal bags which encourage customers to put sanitary items in the bin rather than flushing them.

Anglian Water, Severn Trent Water, Southern Water, Welsh Water, Northern Ireland Water and Yorkshire Water are now offering FabLittleBag to their customers as part of their education campaigns to reduce the millions spent each year on clearing fatbergs and other sewer blockages.

Flushed sanitary waste contributes to the fatberg problem by forming the scaffolding for the build-up of greasy blockages in sewers. When the flow is blocked and sewage overflows into watercourses, tampons, applicators and wipes are frequently found washed up on beaches, creating a health hazard for humans and marine life alike.

Plastic pollution in oceans has been a high-profile issue recently, but few people associate their sanitary products with plastic waste, instead thinking of them as organic and flushable, like toilet paper. Not only do wipes and sanitary pads not break down in water in the way that toilet paper has been carefully engineered to do, they are in fact made from significant amounts of plastic. This makes them a double threat when flushed: firstly for causing blockages, and secondly for being a non-degradable addition to the islands of plastic circulating in the world’s oceans.

Water companies have long been waging a war against consumer ignorance of what can and can’t be flushed, but are hindered by a lingering taboo around discussing periods and sanitary items. 60% of the UK’s tampon users currently flush them, mostly in the belief that this is how they are meant to be disposed of. With an estimated 1.4 billion tampons being flushed in the UK alone each year, the scale of the problem is not to be underestimated. In their 2016 beach clean-up, the Marine Conservation Society found 20 sanitary items per 100m of coastline.

Now some water companies are putting the solution into consumers’ hands by offering FabLittleBag directly to households. These sanitary disposal bags have been shown in a trial with Anglian Water to convert 97% of committed tampon flushers to binners. The opaque, biodegradable bags open one-handed and seal away tampons, pads and wipes, ready for the bin, with no leaks or odour. They are also suitable for disposal of condoms.

John Brewington of Severn Trent Water says: “Our research has shown that our customers would rather dispose of sanitary products down the toilet, rather than handling it and putting in the bin. So, the FabLittleBags help our customers do the right thing and help us prevent flooding and pollution.”

Martha Silcott, inventor of FabLittleBag, adds: “Education in isolation will only ever have a limited impact. People still flush all kinds of unflushables after decades of ‘do not flush’ campaigns. The key is to provide the education hand in hand with the solution, making it easier for the user, to get behaviour change. Some water companies have even started offering FabLittleBags in their head office toilets, as just because you work for a water company does not necessarily mean you are a binner!”

FabLittleBag was the winner of the Future Water Association’s ‘Water Dragons’ award for innovation last year.

Author: James Brockett,
Topic: Sewer Networks
Tags: sewer blockages , sewers , fatberg

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