Pollution Prevention

Wipes Clog Pipes!

Toss It, Don't Flush It! Don't Trust the Label!

Sanitary, disinfecting, and baby pipes may be labeled "flushable" but they DO NOT breakdown in the sewer system. Our sewer systems and wastewater treatments plants are not designed to handle wipes. They clog up sewer systems and cost taxpayers and residents a lot of money in unnecessary maintenance costs! Clogs can cause sanitary sewer overflows which may cause untreated wastewater to storm drains and ultimately our creeks and river.

Homeowners can also experience plumbing problems and backups causing expensive repairs if you flush wipes at home. Always put your sanitary, disinfecting, and baby wipes in the garbage and only flush toilet paper.

Watch this video to learn more about What You Should and Should Not Flush Down the Toilet.

Toilets are Not Trash Cans

In addition to wipes, there are several other common household items which should never be flushed down the drain.  When flushed and disposed of improperly, these items frequently clog sewer lines, disrupt important pumps and filters throughout the collection system, and ultimately wind up at the wastewater treatment plant.  These items must be removed manually by the treatment Operators at the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility and can result in costly and dangerous damages to vital machinery involved in the water treatment process.  Please do your part and help the City ultimately keep our waterways clean and safe by never flushing the following items down the drain:

  • Sanitary or “flushable” wipes (discussed above)
  • Dental floss: Despite any labels, floss is not biodegradable. Stringy floss is easily tangled into larger masses which can cause partial of full clogs in sewer pipes.  In addition, floss loves to get tangled and intertwined into important pumps and machinery throughout the collection system and wastewater treatment process.  Floss belongs in the trash.
  • Hair: much like dental floss, hair will easily tangle and congeal into solid masses and clog pipes. Hair belongs in the trash or compost.
  • Feminine hygiene products: Tampons, pads, and liners absorb liquids and expand in plumbing lines and sewer pipes.  These products do not break down and will easily get caught in pipes or machinery involved in the wastewater treatment process.  Feminine hygiene items belong in the trash.
  • Disposable diapers: These items are not biodegradable and easily clog sewer pipes.  Please dispose of diapers properly in the trash.
  • Prescription medicine (discussed below)
  • Fats, oils, grease, and food scraps (discussed below)

Fats, Oils, and Grease

Oil and grease don’t belong in the sewer!  Wastewater from local residences, restaurants and food processing facilities travel through the City’s sewer system to the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility to be safely disinfected and treated before being reused as recycled water or released back into the environment.  Fats, oil, and greases (FOG) come from meat scraps, cooking oils, salad dressing, butter, lard, shortening, and many more processed food materials.  When FOG from these products ends up down the drain, it quickly accumulates in plumbing and sewer pipes and can cause dangerous and costly backups and clogs.  Accumulation of FOG in the City’s collection system (sewers) can lead to manhole overflows and the release of untreated wastewater into streets, waterways, and back into neighboring residences and businesses.  FOG buildups and blockages can quickly create costly plumbing repairs for homeowners!

Local residents can do their part to avoid these costly repairs and help reduce pollution in our community by following these easy best management practices in their homes and kitchens:

  • Scrape food scraps into the trash, not the sink.
  • Avoid the use of food processors or in-sink food grinders to dispose of food scraps when washing dishes. This will still release the same amount of FOG into your pipes, just in smaller chunks.  The City’s municipal code does not allow food grinders for commercial or industrial uses.
  • Dispose of used cooking oils into sealed containers bound for the trash. Wipe down oily cooking equipment with rags before washing them in the sink.  Restaurants and food processing facilities that regularly use large amounts of cooking oil should have a proper used oil bin and a disposal service from a local oil recycling business.
  • Always have the proper materials on hand to contain a spill of oil or grease. Cotton towels and rags used to wipe up grease should be thrown out, not washed.
  • Cat litter or a similar absorbent is the best way to clean a large grease or oil spill. Pour the absorbent over the spill, and sweep the used absorbent into a plastic bag and dispose of in the trash.

Safe Disposal of Prescription Medicine

Pills, pharmaceutical products and other medicines should never be flushed down the drain or toilet.  Many pharmaceutical components are not easily broken down or removed in standard wastewater treatment processes and can “pass through” treatment plants and end up back in the environment.  Studies show that pharmaceutical compounds in high enough concentrations can harm aquatic and terrestrial life when released back into the environment.  Pharmaceuticals represent a major source of pollution in our waterways and ecosystems.

To address this concern, Petaluma and Sonoma County have partnered with the Safe Medicine Disposal Program to provide drop off locations and mail-back options for old, unwanted or unused medicines.  These services are free of charge and anonymous.  For more information, please visit the Safe Medicine Disposal Program and Zero Waste Sonoma.

For More Information - Baywise.org

There are so many more ways to help prevent pollution in our community.  The sections highlighted above represent a good introduction to some of the easiest and most important ways you can help protect our environment and waterways, starting right at your home or local business.  However, there is always more we can do.  The City of Petaluma is proud to be a part of the Bay Area Clean Water Agency's (BACWA) Bay Area Pollution Prevention Group (BAPPG).  To learn about and access many more pollution prevention resources, please visit www.baywise.org, a partnership between BAPPG and the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association (BASMAA).

Baywise.org provides simple tips for businesses and residences and in depth articles about many pollution prevention topics, including: how to reduce metals pollution from your home and business plumbing, water-wise conservation practices for your home and garden, common household items you might not know contain harmful pesticides, and much more.  Whether you are a residential homeowner/renter, a local business, an educator or community advocate looking for fun and helpful educational materials, or a conscientious citizen looking for ways to help protect your community, more information can be found at www.baywise.org.


Sanitary sewer overflows are harmful to our environment and costly. Just remember to only flush the "Three P's" - Pee, Poop, and Paper!

clogged pipe
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