Have you heard of ‘Dry January’ or perhaps, ‘Movember’? What about Unblocktober? This year we are proudly supporting Lanes Group PLC and their initiative of Unblocktober. Throughout October, we are focusing on saving our sewers and seas – whilst also protecting the infrastructure and environments for us all, and we’d love you to be involved. Together, we are spreading a message, loud and clear. A message that will have a real-life impact on the quality of our services and the environment that we live in. The message is this: Our planet needs your help, and Unblocktober will make a real difference to challenges we face today. Ask yourself, “Do you want to help reduce the amount of plastic entering our seas and rivers? Do you want to help fight environmentally-damaging fatbergs?” If the answer is “yes!”, we need your help to act, and the truth is, it’s easier than you might think. Together, let’s make October, Unblocktober… What is Unblocktober? Unblocktober is the world’s first national campaign and awareness month to improve the health of our drains, sewers, waterways and seas - and you can get involved! The concept is simple – for the month of October, we would like your help to raise awareness around the impact of any of the below down your sink or toilet: Cooking oils, pre or post cooking Cooking sauces Food – even crumbs! Margarine, butter or lard Milk And anything containing plastic, including: Wet wipes Sanitary products Nappies Contraception Cotton buds Contact lenses Medical supplies, including bandages Dental floss and, Razor blades Paint (believe it, or not but we get a lot of paint in our sewage system!) Tissues (not toilet paper) & kitchen roll Why is it important? The pressure that we’re placing on our sewer system is growing. London’s waste flows through plumbing, originally from the Victorian era, designed for people over a hundred years ago. In 1800, the population of London was around 1 million. Today, London’s population is around 8 times that and growing every day. For many decades, we have flushed dangerous items and liquids down the drains and now we’re paying the price. For a technician to fix a blocked drain, the price is around £200, but the price we pay is more than just money. Flooding houses and damaging wildlife are two direct impacts of sewer misuse, and then of course are the infamous fatbergs… Fatbergs, huge masses of congealed fats, greases, oils and plastics lurk beneath our streets, blocking drains and sewer systems and causing them to work less effectively than they were designed to. This has many known effects. Foul waste flooding, pollution into our rivers and oceans plus increases in roadworks due to excavation and repair are three main examples. Even the smallest of plastics and food waste can block up your ‘u’ bends and drains, paving the way for bigger blockages. This is why Unblocktober is needed now more than ever. We’re asking everyone to help us and proactively avoid placing anything down the sink or toilets, other than water, pee, poo and toilet paper. These are major issues, but the good news is that a big difference doesn’t require a big effort… What lies beneath 3D canvas Ever heard of hidden plastic? It’s in the name – hidden plastics are plastics that are in many everyday products that you may not know are there. These are often disposed of inappropriately and many are flushed down the toilet. It’s important to remember that ‘flushable’ means anything that can fit down a ‘u’ bend. Loads of items can fit down a toilet, but it doesn’t mean that it should go down one. Tea bags and paper drinking cups are common culprits that we all think are recyclable or will biodegrade. However, tea bags are often made with plastic polypropylene and many cups have a plastic lining to keep your drink warm. This means that they don’t fully decompose. Wet wipes, chewing gum, condoms, toothpaste, and cotton buds all contain types of plastic too, whether they are hidden or contain microbeads. Incredibly, on average 5 sanitary care products are found in every 100 meters of beach cleaned – add all the other plastic pollution alongside this startling fact and and the scale of the problem starts to become apparent. Wet wipes are also a massive problem that we need to address. 300,000 blockages are caused by wet wipes each year. 48% of the public have flushed wet wipes down the loo and these act as a massive contribution to fatbergs, blockages and environmental damage. Whilst wet wipes fit down the loo, many of them are incorrectly labelled as flushable as they won’t biodegrade because plastic is woven into them. This means they don’t break down like toilet paper does in our systems. Wet wipes make up around 93% of the material in sewer blockages, costing around £100 million to the UK. Stopping wet wipes from going down our loos is critical to Unblocktober’s success! If you would like to see how toilet paper breaks down compared to wet wipes, try out our ‘shakey shakey’ test. This involves filling up two clear, re-usable bottles with tap water, putting toilet paper in one and a wet wipe in the other. Shake these around in a circular motion for 2 minutes and watch the toilet paper dissolve and the wet wipe stay fully intact. The good news is that there are choices you can make and indicators that you can look out for, that will stop these ‘hidden’ plastic causing harm, without changing your daily routine. Eco-friendly alternatives Luckily, there are alternatives to all the hidden plastics and products we’ve explored. Simple behaviours, such as having conveniently placed bins in bathrooms, can stop us putting plastic down the loo. ‘Fine to flush’ wet wipes are now on the market which Water UK have approved as ‘not containing any plastic’. Organic tampons and other period products are also entering the eco-friendly scene, alongside reusable nappies, cotton buds made of bamboo, makeup wipes and washbags that don’t release microfibres. However, you still should not flush these as they can still harm our sewers. Taking advantage of these everyday alternatives is a huge step towards reducing the amount of hazardous plastic pollution that makes its way to places it shouldn’t be. How to avoid placing plastics and food down your drain It appears easier to throw oils and food down the drain, but it all clogs up and leads to serious problems. To avoid placing fats, oils and greases down your drain, collect your congealed fats and oils after they’ve cooled down. Once they’ve solidified, they should be placed in bins. Alternatively, you can send this waste to the Environment Agency, to a licenced waste oil collector who can use the fat and oil for renewable energy. Follow this link to find out more about our “Bin it - don't block it” campaign . There are some really useful products available to help stop your drains blocking and potentially flooding your house. Sink strainers are basic cost-effective tools, that sit in your plug hole and act as screens to collect food before it builds up in your pipes. For catching the smallest bits of food and scraping them off your kitchenware, food scrapers are ideal, helping to ensure that the smallest crumb of food stays out of your drains and sewage water stays out of your home. What are we asking of you? Here at Thames Water, we’re very proud of signing up to Unblocktober alongside Lanes Group PLC. It’s a simple pledge to pay more attention to what we put down the drain this October. We need your help in this fight against pollution. If you’re up to this challenge, you can sign up here to receive your free resource kit and join us in saving our sewer infrastructure and the wider environment. You can even share your progress and spread the word, showing the significant impact that your actions and active decisions are having for the better. Posting updates, pictures, video diaries, and tips for other participants are all great ways of encouraging others to get on board with the message and the challenge, of spreading the word. By committing to this simple challenge, we will make Unblocktober a successful event together – not just in 2019, but for many years to come.
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