Urban Utilities crews have to manually remove and clean the inlet screens.
Urban Utilities crews have to manually remove and clean the inlet screens.

One-tonne ‘rag ball’ pulled from sewage treatment plant

A MONSTER 'rag ball' which weighs as much as a small car has been removed from Urban Utilities' Bundamba Sewage Treatment Plant.

Consisting mostly of wet wipes, paper towels and tissues, the one-tonne rag ball took four plant operators five hours to manually remove with shovels and pitch forks.

The plant manager said she has never seen the daily volume of rag hit over a tonne in her 13 years working in wastewater treatment.

Urban Utilities spokeswoman Michelle Cull said they were continuing to see an influx of non-flushable items in the local sewerage network during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We've seen a 30 per cent increase in the volume of rag arriving at our Bundamba plant," she said.

"The one-tonne rag ball was the biggest one we've ever had at the plant but it's just the tip of the fatberg.

"Across our network, we've also seen a 35 per cent increase in blockages in sewer pipes caused by foreign objects, such as wet wipes and fat."

Urban Utilities plant manager Mandy Murchison at the Bundamba Treatment Plant.
Urban Utilities plant manager Mandy Murchison at the Bundamba Treatment Plant.

Unlike toilet paper, which disintegrates quickly after it's flushed, wet wipes, paper towels and even tissues are made from stronger fibres, designed to stop them from breaking apart.

Plant manager Mandy Murchison said she had never seen anything like it before.

"With so many people working from home we've seen a significant increase in flows coming into our smaller plants like Bundamba and with those flows has come more wet wipes," she said.

"As a result, we've had to increase our inspections of the plant's inlet works, where the rag is screened and removed.

"It's a smelly job for our team who has to remove it, so it can be hauled off to landfill, which is where it all should have gone in the first place."

Ms Cull said flushing the wrong thing could also cause costly blockages in private plumbing.

"The pipes that carry the wastewater away from your home are only between 10-15cm in diameter so it doesn't take much for them to get clogged up with wet wipes, paper towels, fat and other nasties that shouldn't be down there," she said.

"It's easy to do the right thing - instead of flushing these items, place them in the bin, avoiding a mess in our pipes or a big plumbing bill in yours.

"Our advice is always to only flush the 3Ps - pee, poo and paper."

Urban Utilities said it spends nearly half a million dollars a year disposing and transporting rubbish to landfill from its pump stations and treatment plants.


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