Emily Cooper


At The Rivers Trust, we're supporting Unblocktober: a month-long national campaign to improve the health of our drains, sewers, rivers and seas. Whatever you flush down the toilet or pour down the sink can have a direct impact on the health of our rivers. During periods of high rain, combined sewer overflows kick in to prevent our homes from flooding. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of our river's health; sewage is released directly into waterways. Next time you flush, be aware: whatever goes down the toilet could end up in your local river! There is so much confusing information out there about what is flushable and what isn’t. Unblocktober is a great opportunity for us to help share more information about what we can and can’t flush and how non-flushable items, such as wet wipes and sanitary towels, are polluting our rivers and seas. Gutter Wet Wipes Wet wipes flushed down the toilet can end up contaminating our rivers and streams, negatively impacting wildlife and water quality.

How can you help?

Sign up and pledge your support to make a difference this Unblocktober. Getting involved is really simple: you don't actually have to do anything - instead, we want you to stop doing something. We're asking you to make a conscious effort to NEVER flush the following items down the toilet or sink. Your river’s wellbeing depends on it!

What not to flush:

  • Cooking oil, butter, margarine and lard: fats congeal in the sewers, forming a hard mass known as a ‘fatberg’. These can interfere with the functioning of sewers, requiring huge amounts of money and time to remove.
  • Crumbs and cooking sauces: leftover scraps and sauces may seem harmless to wash down the sink, but it’s much better to scrape them into the bin.
  • Wet wipes: even wet wipes which claim to be flushable can clog up our drains and end up polluting our rivers. Eliminating wet wipes all together is your best bet, but if you need them, opt for a biodegradable brand.
  • Toiletries: tampons, sanitary towels, nappies, condoms, cotton buds, contact lenses, plasters, dental floss and razor blades are often found clogging up sewers. When sewage is discharged into the river—either intentionally or due to a misconnection—these items pollute our natural ecosystems.
Mark-Horton-collecting-wet-wipes When water levels drop, debris entering the river from sewage outfalls is often left stuck to trees!

Why is Unblocktober necessary?

This year, a fatberg longer than 6 double decker buses was discovered in a Devon sewer. With 48% of the public admitting to pouring grease, fat or oils down the sink, it's hardly surprising that fatbergs like this keep popping up across the country. In addition, 48% of the British public have admitted to flushing wetwipes, and an estimated 180,000,000 cotton buds are flushed down the toilet every year. We cannot hope to achieve healthy rivers and seas while we're engaging in behaviour like this - and that's why Unblocktober is so important.

What else are Rivers Trusts doing?

Every week, local Rivers Trusts are out in the field, getting their hands dirty in aid of river conservation. Last year alone, our local Trusts carried out 556 cleanup events, helping to make our rivers safer, cleaner places to spend time. A lot of the items they pick up originate in our homes, having entered the river after being flushed down the toilet or poured down the sink. To keep our rivers healthy, it's important we all do our bit to prevent this type of pollution at the source. On top of carrying out cleanups, we are working with water companies to encourage the public to #StopFlushingWipes. Many people don't realise that whatever goes down the toilet can end up polluting natural ecosystems, so raising awareness of this fact is key! We want people to be able to enjoy the river without worrying about pollution. That's why we've released our interactive "Is my river fit to swim in?" map. It pinpoints the location of pollution hotspots across England and Wales, allowing river users to make more informed decisions when they take the plunge. Check it out - you might be shocked by what's being released into your local river...

What can I do?

  • Sign up to support Unblocktober and pledge never to throw the items listed above down the toilet or sink. Only ever flush the 'three Ps': pee, poo and paper
  • Volunteer: on one of our river cleanup days, you can help to remove rubbish from your local river. This improves the habitat for local wildlife, plants and people!
  • Donate: if you don't have a lot of time to spare, making a donation could help to fund vital work to clean our rivers and improve water quality
  • Fundraise: fundraising can be a great, fun way to raise money for a good cause. Why not host a sponsored litter pick?
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