If you’re not familiar with the Pixar film Finding Nemo, first of all, you’re missing out. Secondly, there’s one key phrase that has been somewhat over-exaggerated. Long story short, Nemo escapes his tank by sending himself down a drain in what was possibly the greatest escape since The Great Escape. Nemo’s told that ‘all drains lead to the ocean’. Sure enough, he ends up in the ocean and swimming back home to the reef. But do all drains really lead to the ocean?
In short, they do, just not in the simplistic single pipe format that was in the movie. Your toilet paper from this morning’s visit is not now floating alongside Nemo and his chums. Our manmade waterways are cleverly designed to help reduce the impact on our wildlife, but it also relies on us at home to do our part and only flush the right things. Sadly, the same cannot be said for natural waterways which have a more damaging impact on sea life.
What happens after you flush?
From our previous blogs, we know that the 3 P’s (pee, paper, and poo) are the only items which should enter our toilet. Yet, millions of us are flushing other things, including floss, wet wipes, and hair. This is where the problems begin.
After we flush, water and waste enter our complex system of waterways towards a treatment facility. All the foreign objects in the waterways that don’t belong there are the first to be removed but unfortunately, not all make it that far. As items like floss and wet wipes join together, they start to form blockages known as fatbergs – a colossal problem that cost thousands to rectify!
Treatment stages where all drains lead to the ocean
Luckily, not all large items get caught up in fatbergs which means they’re removed from the waterways in the first stage of the treatment facility. However, some foreign objects are small enough to get through this stage such as cotton buds.
The next process is to separate any other solids from liquids, this is where we remove those pesky pieces of floss, cotton buds and smaller foreign objects. Large machines are designed to push solids to the bottom and raise liquids. Sometimes the bottom part of this container will be sent to landfill while the top will move onto the next stage of treatment. In other cases such as with Thames Water, the sludge is used to generate renewable energy.
Flushed foreign objects either make it out to landfill, used for renewables or get caught up and block waterways.
That’s right, landfill. In some cases there is no rescuing the water waste. They either make it out to be removed and send to landfill, made into renewable energy, or they block the waterways and cost local companies money. Which in turn, affects you and your bills.
The next stage is essential for protecting our wildlife as it removes any bacteria from the water. This essentially purifies it so it can be put back into the ocean. All wastewater must be regulated and approved by the Environment Agency before being put back into the ocean. Thankfully, means our wildlife is protected to a certain degree. We all know that microplastics are slipping through the nets, so much so that we can’t escape them.
All drains lead to the ocean, but some are more harmful than others
When we say drains, we often visualise manmade pipes, toilets, and sinks, but not all drains are built by us. While we can control the impact that our manmade waste has on the environment to a certain degree, we have minimal control over mother nature.
We may not realise it, but natural drains are more harmful to the environment than manmade. Although of course, it is our treatment of them that makes them hazardous. Rivers, lakes, and streams all pour into the ocean, but do you know what they take with them? Litter that they collect on the journey.
Every time a piece of litter is dropped, it has the potential to harm our wildlife. While it may be dropped hundreds of miles away from the ocean, wind can carry it to a stream, which can move it to a river and then into the ocean.
What do we do next?
When we talk about looking after our waterways, being mindful of the items we flush is a start, but a greater focus is needed on natural waterways. Beach cleans, and litter picks are a great way to protect the wildlife on land, but also in the water.
Our manmade waterways are under stress from foreign objects being flushed, but the natural world also struggles. There is no natural filtering system in place to protect the ocean from rivers. While we focus on flushing, we must also be more mindful of how we dispose of our waste at home.
Finding Nemo was right, all drains to lead to the ocean. But not all of them are adapted to ensure that wildlife is protected. Even then, some items are so small they slip through the net. Remember a build-up of materials can lead to a blockage and a burst pipe. At that point, all the wastewater enters the natural drains which harm our environment the most. Make sure you look after both natural and manmade waterways in your daily routines.