The Rivers Trust, the leading environmental charity dedicated to protecting and conserving the UK’s and Ireland’s rivers, lakes, and waterways, is rallying the public in Northern Ireland to support Unblocktober, a crucial campaign aimed at safeguarding rivers and water ecosystems.
This month-long initiative encourages people to think before they flush and adopt simple yet impactful habits to prevent harmful commonplace household items from clogging our sewers and polluting our waterways.
The Rivers Trust’s All-Ireland Director Mark Horton said: “Unblocktober is all about taking small steps that collectively make a big difference. Remember, only the 3 Ps (pee, poo, and paper) should be flushed down the toilet. By not flushing items such as wet wipes, cotton buds, condoms, nappies, contact lenses, masks, razor blades, sanitary products or plasters down the toilet or oils, butter, or cooking sauces down drains, we can have a positive impact on river health in Northern Ireland, and prevent our sewers from backing up sewage into our streets and our homes, or flowing into our waterways.
"Our rivers are the lifeblood of our communities, providing us with drinking water, recreational spaces, and critical habitats for wildlife. However, they are under constant threat from the disposal of non-biodegradable materials into our drainage systems. Unblocktober is an opportunity for everyone to unite and protect these invaluable natural resources. Hopefully, we encourage good habits that will extend beyond October across the rest of the year once this issue has been highlighted."
“This campaign requires minimal effort from participants and costs nothing in taking part, yet its impact is immeasurable. By making simple changes in our daily routines, we can collectively prevent thousands of harmful items from entering our rivers and harming the environment.”
Millions of wet wipes are flushed down toilets every year, leading to severe consequences for our rivers and aquatic ecosystems. Wet wipes are the single biggest cause of fatbergs that block sewage systems and are a significant contributor towards littering in waterways. This is because almost all wet wipes contain strong fibres, often containing plastic, which means they do not break down in sewers, unlike toilet paper.
Across the UK, there are approximately 300,000 sewer blockages annually, costing the economy £100 million. Thousands of properties suffer sewer flooding, creating misery for homeowners and businesses, leading to high clean-up bills and increased insurance costs.
In Northern Ireland, figures released earlier this year by NI Water showed that wet wipes account for 93% of the material blocking pipes. The rest are down to sanitary pads, tampons, and cotton buds. These blockages can cause sewage leaks, with around 900 danger points identified across the system.
Mark concluded: “In the last ten years, Northern Ireland Water has spent over £1.5 billion investing in water and wastewater infrastructure, but no amount of investment will completely stop blocked pipes if people continue to flush wipes, sanitary items, and cotton buds down the toilet. These products do not biodegrade, and they end up blocking sewers, polluting rivers, and washing up on beaches. Since the pandemic, our local Rivers Trusts, working to conserve the freshwater environment across Northern Ireland and Ireland, are seeing increasing numbers of wet wipes and non-biodegradable plastics during their frequent litter picks.
“We all have a part to play in protecting our freshwater and marine environments. Unblocktober reminds us there are simple but effective ways in our everyday lives we can all take actions that show we care about our rivers in Northern Ireland.”