LEWISTON — Happy Earth Day!

In the spirit of preserving Mother Earth, we turned to a local expert on what we all can do at home to help our environment.

Earth Day lesson from Clayton “Mac” Richardson: Don’t use your toilet as a trash can.

“The only thing that should go in the toilet is toilet paper and what comes out of your body,” Richardson said.

Richardson is superintendent of the Lewiston-Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority, the plant that treats human waste and effluent from sinks, showers and drains.

If toilets and sinks were used appropriately, that treatment process would cost less for ratepayers, better for public service workers and better for the Androscoggin River, where the treated water goes.

When inappropriate things are flushed down the toilet, the result can be costly backups for homeowners and messy, expensive work unclogging main pipes and pumps for city workers, Richardson said.

Here’s what not to do, and why.

Never flush wipes: “A big issue we have, especially lately, is people discharge wipes, things never meant to go down a toilet,” Richardson said.

“In the sewer system, there’s a lot of underground pipes, valves and pumps. The wipes wrap around wheels and get caught up in the pump,” Richardson said. “Then what happens is somebody’s upset at 2 in the morning that their sewer is backing up.”

Unlike toilet paper, wipes don’t break down. Sometimes the clog ends up in someone’s yard; other times, in city plumbing. Clogs can mean sewage “may back up into your home — it’s not very nice,” Richardson said.

Cut the grease: Another problem for private and public plumbing is caused by people pouring hot grease down the sink — often from bacon or hamburger.

At some point, that grease cools off, hardens and sticks to the inside of pipes. It can often joins forces with the wipes that shouldn’t be there.

Instead of pouring grease down the drain,  absorb that grease in newsprint or paper towels and then discard it, Richardson said. Or pour the warm grease in a tin can and throw it out with the trash when it hardens.

No food, drugs or personal care products: Flushing paper napkins and paper towels is not recommended, either. “Napkins are not designed to break up.”

Food waste should not go down the toilet, Richardson said. Put it in the trash. “The pork chop might go down the toilet and disappear, but how many places might it get hung up?” he asked.

Years ago, doctors would tell patients to flush old medications down the toilet. No more. Take medications back to a prescription drug pickup spot. There are two in Lewiston-Auburn on April 30: from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Bedard Pharmacy on Minot Avenue in Auburn and at Farwell Elementary School in Lewiston.

Some medicine may break down and not be a problem, but it can have an adverse effect on plant and fish life in the Androscoggin River, and end up in compost that comes from the treatment plant after processing the wastewater. 

Used tampons and condoms should not be flushed because they’re not designed to break down. Instead, wrap them in toilet paper and throw them in the trash, Richardson recommended.

Other things people dump into the toilet include shampoo, body lotion and similar products. Again, because these contain chemicals and other substances you wouldn’t want in the compost used by local farms to grow food, they should be thrown in the trash.

Don’t flush the floss: The toilet may be a handy way to get rid of dental floss, but once again, it does not break down. “It’s long and stringy,” Richardson said. “It does wrap around and collect other things and form a clog.”

Do it for you, workers and Mother Earth: When clogs form in city plumbing, city workers are called out to get things moving again.

“Think about the guy who has to figure out where the clog is,” Richardson said. “‘How do I get this sewerage out of the way?’ then go in and take apart a pump.” 

Typically, the clog involves a massive amount of baby wipes, adult wipes, condoms and that kind of gunk.

“We like our jobs,” he said. “We feel good about serving the public. But the more we can get cooperation from the public, the nicer it is for us and cheaper for the citizens. Sending someone out in the middle of the night involves overtime.”

 


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