The Tauranga City Council is waging war against "flushable" wet wipes.

In October the council planned to launch a $55,000 education campaign to try to stop people flushing two tonnes of wipes down Tauranga toilets every week.

Council staff found the wipes were responsible for 30 per cent of all wastewater system blockages and removing wet wipe blockages cost ratepayers an estimated $168,000 last financial year.

The blockages - such as one that caused a sewerage overflow in Pilot Bay and closed the popular swimming spot for a week at the height of summer - could cause damage to both the environment and the Tauranga's reputation as a tourism destination.

Advertisement
A wet wipe blockage caused a sewerage overflow that closed Pilot Bay to swimmers for a week in January. Photo / George Novak
A wet wipe blockage caused a sewerage overflow that closed Pilot Bay to swimmers for a week in January. Photo / George Novak

Following the lead of similarly afflicted cities including New York and Sydney, the council started developing a campaign to get people thinking and talking about their bathroom behaviour.

WAVE creative agency has been hired to help.

Council water education specialist Hannah Sherratt yesterday told the environment committee the planned slogan was "save our pipes from wipes".

A yet-to-be-named elephant had been chosen as a mascot to represent the two-tonne problem visually.

The mascot would first appear in ads on social media in October, then in traditional media later on in the year.

Wet wipes cause 30 per cent of blockages, like this one, in Tauranga's wastewater pipes. Photo / Supplied
Wet wipes cause 30 per cent of blockages, like this one, in Tauranga's wastewater pipes. Photo / Supplied

She said the campaign was needed because most people who used wet wipes probably would not know they caused problems.

"People think they are doing the right thing by flushing them," she said.

The council has also started lobbying the Government to ban "misleading" words such as "flushable" and "biodegradable" from being used to market wet wipes made mostly from plastic.

Advertisement

Wet wipes were usually made of a fabric woven together with plastic resins such as polyester or polypropylene, which were not biodegradable.

Workers have to pick the wet wipe fibres out of screens by hand. Photo / Supplied
Workers have to pick the wet wipe fibres out of screens by hand. Photo / Supplied

The council's infrastructure manager, Christine Jones, said that while the wipes were "flushable" in the sense they fitted down the toilet, they should not be flushed due to their huge negative impact on wastewater systems and, potentially, waterways.

Mayor Greg Brownless has written to Environment Minister David Parker on the council's behalf to invite him to Tauranga to talk about the extent of the nationwide problem.

"We strongly request the Government take urgent action to require mandatory package labelling that does not contain the word 'flushable' and provides appropriate disposal instructions," the letter said.

"We believe the Government should also follow the United Kingdom's lead in working towards eliminating the plastic in these items all together."