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Accumulation of wipes recovered from Emasa's filtering system SUR
The big problem of wipes: 2,000 tonnes flushed down Malaga toilets every year
Environment

The big problem of wipes: 2,000 tonnes flushed down Malaga toilets every year

Despite awareness campaigns, these products account for practically all the waste that blocks the city's sewage pipe network. But cotton buds, makeup remover pads and condoms can do the same

Thursday, 28 March 2024

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Figures are down slightly, but not enough, with wipes flushed down toilets throughout Malaga city still posing a major headache for the city hall.

Even though labels say biodegradable, the wipes are not. In many cases they take 600 years to decompose and, even if they break down at first, they can still join together and cause serious environmental problems and blockages in sewage systems.

They are, in fact, more similar to plastic than to paper. Data provided by Emasa, the water company of Malaga city, reveal that 2,300 tonnes of solid waste was recovered from toilets in 2023: mostly wipes. The decrease, despite awareness campaigns, is just 700 tonnes since 2018.

Flushed wipes can reappear on beaches, especially in the west of Malaga city in times of storms and rain. The sewerage network is made up of pipes, treatment plants and pumping stations. Clogs in this network cost the public administrations. Five years ago, Emasa undertook work costing more than 600,000 euros to try to minimise the impact of this waste, which can consist of baby wipes, glasses cleaners, hydrogel for hands, leather and window cleaning wipes and makeup remover pads. Other high-impact items include cotton buds and condoms.

In addition to investments in cleaning, the water company has launched numerous campaigns, the last one last summer. Now, the company is once again calling on the public to help.

Figures decreasing, but not by enough

During 2023, town hall removed 2,341 tonnes of solid waste from the capital's wastewater, which is 1.2% less than the 2,368 tonnes collected in 2022. These figures have been improving. In 2018, it was 3,056 tonnes, down to 2,973 and 2,490 in successive years. But it is still a lot.

Of this waste, 49.73% was extracted in the periodic cleaning of the municipal sewage network; 39.87% in the filtering systems of the Guadalhorce and Peñón del Cuervo wastewater treatment plants, and 10.40% from the wastewater pumping stations operating in Malaga city.

As for the data from the two treatment plants, 874 tonnes of waste arrived at the Guadalhorce wastewater treatment plant, compared to 697 in the previous year, while another 60 tonnes of waste were removed from the Peñón del Cuervo station, compared to 99 tonnes in 2022.

In a bid to reduce the problems, in recent years Emasa installed more filters at pumping stations to remove as much waste as possible before it reaches the treatment plants. It also has a plan in place for installing filtering systems at storm relief points to minimise incidents.

The city hall has also been continuously launching awareness-raising campaigns to the public. The environment department also carries out awareness campaigns through schools and universities, with neighbourhood associations and groups. They some times even involve visits to wastewater treatment plants.

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