People are warned not to flush wet wipes and kitchen roll down the loo if they are affected by a shortage of toilet paper during the coronavirus outbreak.
Thames Water is urging its customers to help reduce the risk of sewer blockages as shoppers face the prospect of empty shelves in supermarkets when they go to buy toilet rolls.
The water and wastewater services provider said many supermarkets in the country have reported running out of toilet paper as shoppers buy in bulk as a result of the pandemic.
The toilet roll shelves at the Ladbroke Grove Sainsbury's are completely empty, with signs dotted around asking customers to "Please think before you buy". pic.twitter.com/QKa2mcARuE— Catherine Wylie (@wyliecatherine) March 13, 2020
Shoppers concerned about having to self-isolate amid the spread of the disease in the UK have sparked Christmas-level demand for some items.
But people have been told there is no need to stockpile and have been warned against doing so, as images emerged of empty shelves in stores.
Wipes, along with other “unflushables” like nappies and sanitary products do not break down in pipes like toilet paper and can combine with fats, oils and grease to create fatbergs – huge, solid masses which are difficult to clear and can cause raw sewage to build up and flood homes, businesses and the environment.
With the company facing the potential for an increase in staff absence in the coming weeks, Thames Water has asked customers to be careful about what they flush.
Matt Rimmer, Thames Water’s head of waste networks, said: “We’re carefully planning how we can continue to provide an essential public service and while we encourage everyone to practise good hygiene to protect against Covid-19, wet wipes and kitchen roll can be hugely damaging to our sewers and our customers can really help us by not flushing them down the toilet.
“This will reduce the number of blockages and the risk of flooding to homes, businesses and the environment during what is likely to be a difficult time for many people.
“Fatbergs grow slowly so it’s hard to say if coronavirus has had an impact on our sewers at this stage but, as always, we’d urge everyone to only flush the 3Ps – pee, poo and paper – to help avoid problems in the future.”
On average, Thames Water spends £18 million every year clearing 75,000 blockages from its sewers, unclogging five house blockages and removing 30 tonnes of material from just one of its sewage treatment works every day.