False teeth, golf balls among bizarre items people flush down toilets

People flush the weirdest things down the toilet, including mobile phones and underwear, NSW wastewater workers found out during a spike in pipe blockages last year.

As the state locked down to curb the spread of coronavirus last autumn and a rush on toilet paper emptied supermarket shelves, the amount of blockages increased dramatically, according to Sydney Water statistics.

Between January and May 2020, a period that included the first statewide lockdown, the number of blockages increased by 38 per cent compared with the same period the year before.

Most pipe jams are caused by wet wipes, sanitary products and cooking oil, which clog the arteries of the sewage system because they don’t dissolve fast enough.

But Sydney Water workers also found some truly strange items that people had flushed down the toilet.

“The items we have found in the wastewater network over the past year that are quite bizarre, everything from false teeth, golf balls and even (parts of) a mattress,” Sydney Water network regional head Emma Demo said.

“We’ve also found mobile phones, towels, underwear and glasses.”

Removing the stuff costs millions of dollars yearly. Ms Demo said it was “unacceptable” that people continued to flush the wrong things down the toilet.

“The wastewater system isn’t designed for a mobile phone or false teeth. We’d like people to be more aware and understand that the wrong thing down the toilet can cause huge issues,” she said.

“This problem doesn’t only have a financial impact, but individual homeowners may also be out of pocket with expensive plumbing bills, something which can be avoided by simply thinking about what we flush.”

Urine, excrement and toilet paper were the only things that should go down the toilet, Ms Demo said.

The Sydney area with the greatest increase in blockages was the Hills Shire Council northwest of the city.

The area had an 119 per cent increase between January and June 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

Wollongong, Woollahra, Randwick and Kiama councils were all in the top five, with increases between 61 and 67 per cent each.

Wollondilly, Burwood, Camden, Sutherland and Canada Bay were also in the top 10.

Hunter Water, which serves the cities of Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, also had a “significant” increase in blockages in the months following March last year.

In Wagga Wagga blockages fell during the pandemic, as compared with the same period in previous years. That’s because of sewage system maintenance and upgrades, a council spokesman said.

But even there, workers found weird things in the pipes, including a pair of jeans.

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