Along with being Halloween season and a wonderful time when pumpkin spice lattes begin to appear on menus, October is also Unblocktober, a month-long campaign that challenges people to avoid putting troublesome items down their drains for 31 days.
By troublesome items, we mean fats, oils, and grease (FOG), food, and, the big one: wet wipes.
All of these items can clog up our drains because they take ages to break down, meaning they make their way through the sewage system and end up in our seas, adding to the pollution crisis, creating fatbergs, and causing harm to wildlife.
To tackle the flushing of wet wipes specifically, one 16-year-old came up with a creative solution.
Emma Greenwood is part of a class at Woodhey School in Bury, Greater Manchester, who was asked to come up with ways to solve the environmental problems caused by putting damaging stuff down drains and toilets.
She came up with an idea that’s simple, but could be pretty effective: adding cigarette packet style packaging to wet wipes, warning people of the real risks of just unthinkingly flushing wipes down the loo.
The Lanes Group, which runs the Unblocktober initiative, absolutely loved the idea, so decided to run with it, creating prototype packaging based on Emma’s concept.
They now hope to push for the packaging to become an industry standard.
Some sample packaging warnings feature photos of fatbergs and messages such as ‘wipes clog our drains’ and ‘this will take 500 years to biodegrade’.
The warning continues: ‘Flushing wet wipes blocks drains and sewers, causing: pollution of seas and rivers, foul waste flooding, and distress to homeowners and public’.
Emma, who is now an environmental activist and youth MP for Bury, said: ‘My inspiration for the wet wipe packaging idea was to try and connect people with the direct effects of their actions.
‘It’s so easy to disconnect yourself from the consequences of your decisions because it’s “not your problem” but, inevitably, it does come back to affect you. I hope the packaging will give people the evidence they need to switch to sustainable alternatives or to dispose of the wipes safely.’
The Unblocktober campaign, which last year had more than 4,500 Brits and more than 50 prominent organisations sign up to the challenge, asks that you avoid putting non-biodegradable items down your drains, toilets, and plugholes for just 31 days.
The organisers say that this movement has taken on a renewed importance in the time of coronavirus and lockdown, as issues of clogged drains and plastic pollution have worsened while we’ve all been spending more time at home.
Naomi Wright of Unblocktober says: ‘The coronavirus crisis has taken a terrible toll on communities around the world, and unfortunately that damage has reached our sewage networks and rivers, lakes and seas too.
‘With more people at home during the global lockdown, “coronavirus fatbergs” have been forming at staggering rates across the world as a result of “unflushable” items and substances being put down our drain on a much larger scale than ever before, as a result of the toilet paper shortage.
‘Plastic pollution has risen too, with more single-use plastic and disposable PPE being used throughout the crisis, but often not being disposed of correctly.
‘Fatbergs and plastic pollution were already two of the most critical environmental issues before lockdown, and sadly the situation has only worsened.
‘The good news is that both problems are entirely man-made, which means if we come together as a society we can make a big difference.’
How to take part in Unblocktober
For the entire month of October, avoid putting any of the following down your sinks or toilets:
- Cooking oil
- Cooking sauces and condiments
- Food – yes, even crumbs
- Wet wipes
- Tampons, applicators, and wrappers
- Menstrual pads
- Cotton buds
- Contact lenses
- Bandages and plasters
- Razor blades
- Dental floss
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