Naomi working in the Marketing department of Lanes Group which is the largest drainage company in the UK says,’ After working there for a year or so it was becoming more and more apparent of the increasing number of pollutants our engineers were facing day in, day out. We had to do something about this. So we decided to carry out a few surveys and we found that the term ‘fatberg’ was becoming increasingly popular but blockages were also continuing to rise which meant people weren’t making the link that their actions were facilitating their formation. So, in 2019 we created Unblocktober, which is the first campaign aimed at improving the health of our sewers and seas.’

Plastfree joined hands with LAnes Group to present this important message to the school kids & teachers at the Youth Cimate Summit. We want to help you understand the link between your kitchen and bathroom habits and the consequences on our environment.

It all started when I watched a documentary on BBC that showed how Laysan Albatrosses birds were on the verge of extinction being affected by plastic pollution. Reading about a survey (UK Sewer Misuse, 2018 Water UK) it I found that, 1.5-2 Billion menstrual items are flushed in Britain’s toilet, which causes 370,000 sewer blockages. I also found that period products are the fifth largest ocean polluter too Two years of research and development materialised the concept of Plastfree- realising “Plastic has no place in periods.”  Instead from watching from the sidelines as environmental pollution worsens, I decided to join hands with Lanes Group, to highlight this wonderful campaign they are doing at this summit, says Anushka, Co-founder of Palstfree.

In a presentation for about 14 mins, they highlighted  mixture of wet wipes and period products, that causes blockages to the sewers, ‘ I’m not sure about you but before I started working for Lanes I didn’t know you’re not actually meant to flush tampons? I’ll be honest, I thought there were designed to be flushed but it turns out they’re actually full of plastic – which makes sense, otherwise they would just fall apart during use, exclaimed Naomi.  ‘I’m going to ask you now to imagine a cold sewer underneath your feet, we’ve seen that there are wet wipes and period products going down the loo and now we’ve also got this stuff….Fat, Oil and Grease also known as FOG. Whenever you wash your pots after cooking any oil, butter or fat from any meat you’ve cooked, even if it’s a little bit will all go down the drain and mix together to form what we can see in the picture,’ explains Naomi with pictures of the daily blocks that the drainage specialists have to live with. ‘When that FOG reaches the cooler temperatures of the sewer and mixes with the unflushables from the previous slide it forms fatbergs – large congealed hard masses that can mostly only be removed manually.’

The Greenwich fatberg weighed 40 tonnes which is the equivalent weight of a double-decker bus. The videos had been incorporated, just to show you what our engineers have to face so although you might think you’re only disposing of a little FOG, it amounts to a lot when everyone else does it too. This one had to be initially removed by heavy machinery before our engineers had to go underground.

Anushka goes on to explain, how plastic pollution is caused by period products. From the age of 11-54 appx an average woman goes through thousands of period products equivalent to 1 bus full of waste. Over 70% of those items like tampons are flushed most of the times in UK. Almost half the women flush panty liners and 36% of times sanitary pads are flushed too. So when it comes to Single use plastic products like, wet wipes, tampons & applicators, sanitary pads, dental floss, nappies, plasters, cotton bud, did you know that all of these take between 100- 1000 years to biodegrade in nature. So the waste we generate today will still be around for generations to come! The Problem is that we all continue to fly tip items in our homes when we hate seeing that around on roads.

Lanes Group conducted a survey of 1200 people and found that….

48% had poured oil and fat down their kitchen sink

55% had flushed a wet wipe down the loo

46% of women had flushed a tampon down the loo

79% had washed paint brushes in their sink. Do you remember the last you did it too?

According to Surveys conducted by Water Research & City to Sea, Wipes are a key component of all sewer blockages, almost 9 out of 10 times & millions of panty liners, tampons & pads are flushed to the sea every year. The only non-toilet paper products that are truly flushable will have the ‘Fine to Flush’ label on them. There’s only a tiny number of products on the market right now. So keep a look out for them when you shop next. We have to ask ourselves what’s the cost of our actions? Well, they fall into 3 categories; economic, health, and environmental.

Economically it costs utility companies on average £100 million every year to clear blockages.

The health implications of these blockages are sewage backflow into homes and in public spaces, which is highly unsanitary and environmentally…

Anything we flush, if it has not been discharged to a nearby river already, it will head to a water treatment plant where small bits of plastic will bypass the filtration and outflow into the sea.  So wet wipes and period products contain microfibres that are made of plastic and as this video shows they can build up to form what is known in the wastewater industry as a ‘ragball’.

With 8.5% of waste on UK beaches comes from what we flush down our loos and menstrual products being the fifth most common item being found on European beaches, we have to change, otherwise, we’re adding to the ever-increasing amount of plastic in our oceans. But how? Here at Unblocktober campaign, our aim is to improve the health of our sewers and seas by challenging the British public to make small changes to their daily habits which can make a huge difference to the environment. For the month of October LAnes group is challenging individuals, to not put certain items down their sinks or toilets, this is to show the British public how easy it can be to make a real difference and form a habit that will help the environment.

So what can you do to help?

It’s simple! Head over to the Unblocktober website to sign up and receive your free online resource pack which is filled with helpful tips like these, on how to avoid causing kitchen and bathroom pollution. You can also help by supporting local campaigns like Thames Waters ‘bin it, don’t flush it’ or support business like Plastfree and switch to plastic-free alternatives. Although the main body of the campaign runs throughout October we want people to carry it on throughout the rest of the year and hopefully for the rest of their lives! So it would be great if we could have your support for Unblocktober and we’re always open to any suggestions you have!

Anushka mentions that, ‘Our vision is to see a world free of single use plastic. With technological advancements and scientific discoveries of suitable alternatives, I’m hopeful that corporates, small businesses like us, schools, activists and charitable organisations can all play their part into making it a reality. We would encourage the leaders of our country to include a ‘DON’T FLUSH PLASTIC’ in the Health Education Regulation from Year 5 onwards so that young girls get the right message that they cannot flush tampons & pads down the toilet.’