Sink plug hole

Action: Observe drain discipline

It’s incredible what goes down our drains that shouldn’t, yet observing “drain discipline” should be an easy action to take.

Drain discipline applies in the kitchen, the bathroom, and of course to the toilet. Let’s have a look at each of those and why it is so important for our environment to get this right.

The kitchen

The kitchen sink and kitchen appliances are the channel for a fair proportion of our waste water. In most countries, this ultimately ends up at sewerage works / water filtering, where anything other than plain old water can cause problems. In fact, the problems can start before that, as the sewers themselves become clogged. Worse still for the individual householder, this can happen right near the beginning of the system, meaning the sewers get blocked up and the waste backs up right into the street and house.

So what should be allowed to go down the kitchen sink? Here’s the perfect very short list:

  • water
  • anything you would normally drink
  • normal domestic cleaning agents (preferably eco-friendly brands)

And here’s a list of some things NOT to put down the kitchen sink:

  • oils and fats, which solidify in the sewers and cause fatbergs
  • coffee grinds and tea leaves
  • food waste – not even through a waste disposal grinder – use a strainer
  • honey, syrups and sugars, which can crystallize to solids
  • undissolved washing powders and similar products
  • cleaning products, acids and alkalis not intended for kitchen use
  • paints and varnishes, even dissolved, and even if water-based
  • wallpaper paste and other glues, no matter how runny
  • cat litter (yes, amazingly, it does happen!)
  • medicines, whether in liquid or tablet form

And here are a few tips for drain discipline in the kitchen

  • use a strainer in your plugholes and clean them out regularly
  • scrape all food from plates into a bin before washing them or putting them in the dishwasher
  • empty or scrape all oils and fats from pans before they are washed
  • regularly clean the filters on your dishwasher and washing machine

Read further on to learn why this is all so important.

Sink plug hole

The bathroom sink and bath

A similar discipline should be observed in the bathroom. The things that should be allowed to go down the plughole include:

  • water
  • normal domestic cleaning agents (preferably eco-friendly brands)
  • toothpaste and similar
  • soaps and shampoos (unless they contain microplastic beads used for “scrubbing”)

Try to avoid hair clumps going into the system too; pick it out of the shower, bath and sink before it builds up!

The toilet

Sometimes, it seems that the toilet can be used to dispose of anything a bit yucky, but this is far from true. Whatever goes down the toilet doesn’t actually disappear, it just goes into the system, and our system are designed to deal only with the “three Ps”.

  • Poo
  • Pee
  • Proper loo Paper!

If you are ill, it is OK to be sick in the toilet though! We’ll let you have that one. Generally though, in simple terms, nothing else should go down the toilet. This includes:

  • wipes and baby wipes (including “flushables” which don’t degrade fast enough)
  • panty pads and tampons
  • hair trimmings
  • condoms (yes, it does happen, by the million!)
  • cotton wool, buds and pads
  • dental floss
  • kitty litter (really!)
  • nappies/diapers
  • non-loo-roll paper and kitchen roll
  • luxury loo paper (which breaks down too slowly)
  • cigarettes
  • gum
  • your deceased pet fish
  • foodstuffs
  • cleaning products not intended for the toilet
  • anything else in the lists above
  • anything else, really!

Why is this important?

All of this is important because our waste water systems are designed to deal with just that – waste water, plus natural human sewage and a minimal amount of other non-corrosive non-toxic liquid. They simply do not cope with solid matter, which can result in damage to the system, failure of the systems, health hazards, and environmental damage through accidental discharges.

Take condoms for example. The Marine Conservation Society tell us that “The chemicals added to the latex mix, which provide shelf life and stability, stop the condom from breaking down swiftly in the ocean. In fact, scientist are currently unsure how long (they take), but estimates put it at around 30 years. In that time, the rubber Johnny is free to go on a worldwide jolly of seas and beaches, and if it doesn’t get washed up on shore, then it is extremely likely to be eaten by an aquatic animal mistaking it for food.”

Take fats and oils as another example. Fatbergs form from large lumps of fatty gunk in the sewer system which can set as hard as concrete. They are caused by fat, oil and grease being disposed of down drains and accumulating over time. They combine with other items which should not have been flushed away, such as wet wipes and sanitary products. Whether it’s saturated fat, like lard, or unsaturated fat like vegetable oils, they all congeal and harden.

Fatbergs cause blockages to the inner lining of drain pipes, which can lead to waste water flooding into gardens and properties, causing a health hazard to wildlife and the local environment. Because the waste water drain from a house to the sewer is usually only around four inches wide, problems can accumulate very quickly. Blocked sewers can spill into burns, rivers, streams, coastal waters and beaches, causing further environmental damage.


Check this out > one report from the UK describes a fatberg “the size of a jumbo jet“.

Or click this image for a full size gross picture! Yuk.

All of the problem items that get flushed or washed away in our toilets, bathrooms and kitchens end up doing this and other forms of damage, including:

  • poisoning and contamination from damaged pipes
  • damage to water treatment systems
  • completing the journey to rivers and seas
  • impact on wildlife and marine life
  • risks to water treatment works staff and those clearing blockages
  • spreading of disease
  • massive costs that could be better invested in water infrastructure
  • excess sewer gas (methane) which is also a greenhouse gas
  • distress and cost caused by sewer-flooded housing

So please … from now on please observe drain discipline and contribute to keeping our water systems running effectively. Thank you.

If you haven’t done so already, please sign up to our bulletin “Take Action” using the form below, and thank you for your support.

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