Socks, shorts and a screwdriver: The items clogging our region's sewers

Pants found flushed into the sewer system Credit: Northumbrian Water

Pants, wet wipes, face masks and tools are just some of the strange items that have made their way into our region's sewer system over the past year.

Northumbrian Water have revealed some of the things found blocking pipes after being flushed down the toilet. Wet wipes are the biggest offenders. a build-up can cause homes to flood.

Since January 2020, Northumbrian water have pulled the following unusual items out of our sewage network:

  • A screwdriver

  • Underwear

  • A beach towel

  • Flannels

  • Empty hair conditioner sachets

  • Face masks

  • Surgical gloves

This screwdriver was found in the pipeworks. It had been flushed down the toilet. Credit: Northumbrian Water

Over recent years, a number of strange items have ended up in North East sewers including a large snake.

Simon Cyhanko, Northumbrian Water’s Head of Wastewater Networks said: “All these strange things leave our teams scratching their heads and wondering what was going through the minds of people flushing them. But the problem of people using their toilet as a bin is a serious one, which can have horrendous consequences."

Simon added: “Bad flushing habits put people’s homes at risk of sewer flooding. However, while many people are really embracing our message and understanding the problems, many still think that if something disappears around the u-bend, it’s gone and everything is ok. It’s not, and sadly, it can often be people with good flushing habits who are the victims when things go wrong."

Wet wipes and face masks are clogging up the system Credit: Northumbrian water

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, face masks have become one of the most commonly flushed items. Despite not being flushable.

Sewer engineers have also seen a rise in underwear and socks clogging up pipework.

Simon added: Whatever the packaging says about flushability, they don’t break down fast enough and settle or snag in our networks, causing and contributing to blockages that can force waste to back up into people’s homes or out into the environment.

“That’s really nasty, which is why we need people to dispose of wipes – or anything else that isn’t toilet paper, pee or poo – responsibly, and that’s not down the toilet.”

This beach towel was found blocking a pump at one of the company’s treatment works Credit: Northumbrian Water

The company’s Bin The Wipe team is currently operating in Darlington, which has become hotspots of wipe flushing. Nappies and other sanitary products also continue to cause problems.

High volumes of wipes have also been found causing sewer blockages in parts of Ferryhill, Spennymoor and Bishop Auckland.