Does Biodegradable Mean Flushable?

  • By: greenorb
  • Date: July 23, 2021
  • Time to read: 5 min.

Biodegradable does not mean flushable, but many consumers are unaware of the difference. When you flush a biodegradable wipe, you run the risk of damaging our sewer system because they will not break down. It is never a good idea to flush single-use wipes down the drain.

The clogs caused by biodegradable wipes can end up costing you thousands of dollars. 

Being educated on this topic is not only important for the environment but can also save you from catastrophe.

Although at first, they sound similar, there is a huge difference between a material that’s biodegradable and one that’s flushable. 

Continue reading to understand what these terms actually mean and what will happen if you continue to abuse our sewer system.

What does “biodegradable” mean?

According to the dictionary, this term refers to “a substance or object capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms.” 

Biodegradable objects have the ability to decay over time, and in most cases will not cause harm to the environment.

Maybe you’re having a hard time understanding what biodegradable means because it is such a vague descriptor. 

Here are a few examples of biodegradable items to give you a better understanding of the term…

  • Paper
  • Animal remains
  • Food waste
  • Wood
  • Plants
  • Natural fabrics (cotton, wool, etc.)
  • Rubber

As you can see, it’s clear that some of these items are not things you would consider actually flushing down your toilet. 

So, does biodegradable mean flushable – the answer is no. Just because something is biodegradable does not mean it’s also septic safe.

What does “flushable” mean?

This term simply means that something is “suitable for disposal by flushing down a toilet.” The only items that are considered truly flushable by plumping authorities are waste and toilet paper, but in excess even these can cause clogs.

The sewer system is a very sensitive structure, and too much of anything can be the cause of a massive plumbing failure. 

When calling something flushable, it does not mean that material is guaranteed not to cause an issue.

To prevent causing expensive issues, you need to use your best judgement in limiting the amount of any material that is flushed. 

Remember, you could end up paying for bad choices in the future.

Are any biodegradable wipes flushable?

Most, if not all, biodegradable wipes are not suitable to be flushed into the sewer system. 

These wipes will not disintegrate quickly enough and will stay solid well beyond their departure from your bathroom.

Unfortunately, the reason there is so much confusion about wipes and their disposal method is due to a loophole that companies use in their product labels. 

Currently, there is still no requirement to prove “flushability” in order to label their wipes as such.

One wipe is a problem in itself, but when you consider the volume of wipes that will be generated by a large population, the risk grows exponentially.

What is a fatberg?

When a large number of wipes are released into the sewage system, they can become lodged in one area and accumulate a buildup of other substances like oil, grease or other non biological waste, resulting in a snowball effect. 

These materials cling together and form a massive blockage called a fatberg.

Fatbergs are no joke, they have the potential to grow to over 800 feet long, and sometimes weigh “more than four humpback whales” combined.

In June of 2019 a beach was closed down due to the overflow of 15,000 gallons of sewage that contaminated nearby ocean water. 

This was caused by a fatberg that had built up over time and eventually caused devastating structural damage.

What happens to a biodegradable wipe after it’s flushed?

When you ignore plumbing recommendations and flush single-use toilet wipes that will not break down quickly enough in the sewer system, you are contributing to a problem that could impact your entire neighborhood. 

Unfortunately, something as seemingly innocuous as toilet wipes are one of the biggest causes of sewer blockages.

Once you flush a biodegradable wipe, even one that claims to be flushable, it continues to travel throughout the sewer system unable to completely break down. 

On its journey through the pipes, there are several places your “flushable” wipe could contribute to disaster:

  1. Private sewer laterals, septic systems, and sewer lines can overflow and cause property damage.
  2. Sewer collection systems can become obstructed by a large collection of foreign materials that will not break down, possibly resulting in sewer spills.
  3. Wastewater pumps can get clogged by wipes and experience system failure or other expensive damage to equipment.
  4. Water treatment facilities will be overrun with masses of wipes that completely disrupt the filtration process.
  5. If your wipe hasn’t managed to clog a component of our sewage infrastructure, it can move on to affect our environment. Even when a disposable wipe has broken down into smaller pieces, those fragments have the potential to poison natural ecosystems.

Once you take a look at all the areas your wipe can negatively impact, it’s clear that the risks associated with flushing your wipe outweigh the convenience of a quick disposal method.

Final Thoughts

Although it is true that wipes are a huge problem for sewage systems and our environment, they are not going away any time soon. 

Wipes have become a common household product and a bathroom staple in many homes. 

If you want to continue using wipes, there are ways to make sure you cause as little damage as possible.

In order to maintain the efficiency of our sewage system, it’s important to dispose of wipes through the trash. 

Even when your wipes claim to be “biodegradable” and “flushable” they can be harmful, so it’s best to be safe rather than sorry.

Do the environment a favor and avoid flushing any materials down the toilet other than waste and toilet paper. 

You’ll not only be maintaining your local sewage system, but you’ll also be saving yourself a ton of money in repair costs.

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