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How COVID-19 Has Affected The Plumbing Industry

Toilet paper substitutes are wreaking havoc on our plumbing

Posted 16:26 September 11, 2022
Last Updated 16:26 September 11, 2022

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The COVID-19 pandemic has left no industry untouched. Even essential businesses have been forced to adjust to new requirements, regulations, and precautions to keep both employees and customers safe. The plumbing industry especially has had to evolve as a result of COVID-19.

Plumbing is considered an essential business and was open for services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. There are federal requirements in place to keep the plumbing industry safe. In the list of professions deemed essential to keep open during the COVID-19 pandemic, plumbing is listed as necessary to continue services.

"Workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences."

Department of Homeland Security
Memorandum on identification of essential critical infrastructure workers during COVID-19 response
March 19, 2020

The toilet paper shortage

The toilet paper shortage was unprecedented. A combination of flaws in supply chains and hoarding shoppers resulted in empty aisles and a rush to buy any toilet paper substitutes.

Toilet paper shortages lead to using non-sewer friendly substitutes. Though flushable wipes and paper towels may not seem that different from toilet paper, they can wreak havoc on plumbing and sewer lines. These products have created a massive problem for plumbers across the country. Though flushable wipes appear to be made as a toilet paper alternative, they do not dissolve the same way that toilet paper does. Toilet paper is designed to quickly break down once flushed. Wet and/or flushable wipes break down much slower. All of this waste slowly accumulates in tight spaces while trying to flow through sewer lines. The eventual result is sewer mainline clogging, or worse, severe damage to water treatment equipment.

Increased interest in bidet installations

The lack of toilet paper made many Americans consider alternatives to traditional toilets. Bidets, which are popular in Europe but never really caught on in America, are receiving more attention due to not requiring toilet paper. Bidets use less water than toilets, making them more environmentally friendly.

A toilet with a hand bidet
Hand bidets, popular throughout Asia are another attractive option. Requiring very little in the way of installation, American homeowners can quickly and easily ditch toilet paper alltogether.

Whether or not Americans will seriously consider toilet alternatives remains to be seen.

Community sewage and plumbing issues

The consequences of the toilet paper shortage are still being discovered. A rise in community sewage blockages is happening right now. Toilet paper substitutes are accumulating in sewer lines to form large masses known as fatbergs.

Fatbergs are congealed masses in sewer systems formed by accumulating grease and non-biodegradable matter like wet (or flushable) wipes. They reach huge sizes and can weigh hundreds of pounds. In one instance, a fatberg was discovered in London in 2017 and weighed almost 300,000 lbs and stretched more than 820 feet. These masses are extremely difficult for plumbers to remove and can take weeks.

It's likely that the COVID-19 toilet paper shortage will lead to the discovery of more fatbergs. In some areas it is already happening. A huge fatberg was just discovered in Melbourne, Australia weighing almost 100,000 lbs. Authorities have determined it is a direct result of residents using wet/flushable wipes and other toilet paper alternatives.

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