Eagle River Water & Sanitation District: Is your drain a trash bin? (column)
Just because something can go down a drain, doesn’t mean it should. If it flushes, it doesn’t mean it should.
Most homes and businesses in the Eagle River valley are connected to a sewage collection system. Thus, what goes down a local drain is destined for a wastewater treatment plant. These facilities are designed to remove organic material, nutrients, and disease-causing organisms before returning clean water that meets environmental standards to a natural water body. In our case, that’s the Gore Creek and the Eagle River.
Wastewater facilities cannot remove everything that’s sent down a drain. So, it’s worth considering what goes in your laundry, dishwasher, bathroom or kitchen sink, toilet, shower or floor drain.
Paying attention to what washes or flushes away is smart because wastewater ultimately becomes part of the freshwater supply and wastewater should flow unobstructed to a treatment facility. When you don’t pay attention or are careless with what goes down the drain and are contributing chemicals, pharmaceuticals, grease, poisons and more to our waterways, it potentially causes blockage in the pipe or a sewer backup into your home or business.
All sorts of stuff that shouldn’t be there ends up in sewer mains and at one of Eagle River Water & Sanitation District’s three wastewater treatment facilities. Have you ever put coffee grounds, cigarette butts, cooking oil, bandages, dental floss, cosmetics, salad dressing, egg shells, cotton balls, gravy, adhesives, hair, fur, meat trimmings, medicine, paint, peanut butter, plastics, cheese, or wet wipes down a kitchen sink, toilet or floor drain? There’s a better choice.
Here are some tips:
Put it in the compost. Don’t have access to compost? Food waste goes in the trash. Pour grease in a container, scrape food scraps into a bin, wipe pots and pans, then wash the dishes.
Choose mild products and use just enough. Harsh chemicals can corrode plumbing and harm the wastewater treatment process. While cleaning products get diluted in the wastewater stream, chemicals survive in parts per million, billion, or trillion. Better to keep them out. For safe disposal, use Eagle County’s household hazardous waste facility at the landfill.
Personal care products
Similar to cleaning supplies, choose mild ones and use just enough. Shampoo, soap, shower gel, exfoliating products, lotion, deodorant, toothpaste, sunscreen — the options are endless. Choose environmentally friendly products and use less.
Fats, oils and grease (FOG)
Put it in the trash. Put it in the trash. Put it in the trash.
Fats, oils and grease coat the inside of drain lines, which constricts flow and can lead to a blockage or backup. Does your insurance cover sewer or drain backups? FOG coats the insides of sewer mains, too. That’s why the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District has a robust sewer system maintenance program that uses a jetting truck to clear mains on a five-year rotating schedule. Some areas with many food service establishments require more frequent jetting. They shouldn’t. All food service establishments should have a grease trap. If they’re regularly maintained and working properly, FOG shouldn’t be a problem in that area. FOG increases your cost for wastewater service because it causes maintenance and operational issues in the collection system and at our wastewater treatment facilities. Put FOG in the trash.
Baby, disinfecting, bathroom, facial, cosmetic, personal hygiene, floor or dusting wipes — put them in the trash!
Wet wipes are designed to be stronger than paper towels, facial tissue or toilet paper. But they don’t break down in water (only toilet paper does). While wipes may flush, please don’t. Wipes clog pipes, get stuck in mechanical processes, contribute to blockages and backups, and increase operational costs. Combine wipes and rags with FOG and you’ve got a fatberg. Google it. Not when you’re eating.
Keep it out of the toilet. Keep it out of the trash. And get it out of your medicine cabinet when you no longer need it. Drop your expired or unused medications off at one of the six permanent take-back receptacles in the Eagle River valley. Our local safe drug disposal partnership has worked together for more than 10 years to get year-round disposal sites that are hosted by the Vail and Avon police departments, Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, Vail Health and Eagle County.
If you’ve been using your drains as trash bins, make some changes. Your behavior change can protect your pipes, our wastewater infrastructure, our community waterways, and our natural environment.
Diane Johnson is the Communications & Public Affairs Manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. ERWSD provides efficient, effective, and reliable water and wastewater utility services in a manner that respects the natural environment. ERWSD’s water service area is Vail and Wolcott, while the wastewater service area is Vail to Wolcott. ERWSD also operates and maintains, by contract, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority public water system, which provides water service to Arrowhead, Avon, Bachelor Gulch, Beaver Creek, Berry Creek, Cordillera, EagleVail, and Edwards.