State, city officials offer warning about what you flush with many toilet paper shelves empty

Brett Hoffland
Updated: March 31, 2020 07:21 PM
Created: March 31, 2020 03:15 PM

Many grocery stores are having a tough time keeping toilet paper on the shelves, and that may be causing some issues for our pipes.

Cities and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency are now warning people about the dangers of what you flush.


"Recently the problem has been rags and other debris that is being flushed down the sewer system," said Steven Lang, Austin City Engineer/Public Works Director.

Steven Lang and the city of Austin are sending a warning to residents after they posted photos of their sanitary sewer pumps covered in debris.

"Typically we may pull six pumps throughout the course of the year, and this case we've pulled six pumps in the last 10 days," Lang said.

"Our concern right now is the problem is going to get worse," said Cathy Malakowsky, with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Malakowsky said she knew this would be a problem when she first started seeing toilet paper in such high demand.

"I saw all these people buying huge packages of paper towels and I heard one man say, 'Well, looks like we'll have to use these,' and I thought, 'Uh oh, this could be trouble for our sewers,'" Malakowsky said.

Malakowsky said it can lead to expensive clogs and the homeowner could foot the bill.

"If you have a backup, let's say in the line between your house and the street, you, the homeowner, are going to be on the tab for picking up that repair cost," Malakowsky said.

While they may look and feel somewhat similar, there is a big difference between flushing paper towels and toilet paper.

"Toilet paper is designed specifically to break down rapidly," Malakowsky said.

"Yeah, definitely more calls on plumbing," said Adam Fiereck, with Dean's Home Services.

Fiereck said one of the biggest issues is flushable wipes. He said the name is deceiving.

"They may go down the drains okay in the house but once they get out to the city they're going to cause some issues in the filtration lines," Fiereck said.

While finding toilet paper may be a struggle right now, you may want to be conservative with what you have and not resort to anything else.

"We're trying to prevent a big problem," Malakowsky said.

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