We recently conducted a nationwide survey into the sanitary disposal habits of women and it revealed some shocking results about how many non-biodegradable products are being flushed down British sewers. Some 39% of those who answered our survey admitted to flushing either a sanitary towel, panty liner or tampon down the toilet in their lifetime. So, it is no surprise that catering venues often contact us with blockages in their drainage systems that are caused by the incorrect disposal of these types of products, as well as other items.
The extent of the problem
The leisure sector incorporates all kinds of venues, from restaurants and bars to shopping centres and nightclubs. One thing they all have in common is that they have toilet facilities that require regular cleaning and maintenance. We are fortunate that this is the case in the UK, as many other countries choose not to provide customer-facing facilities due to the upkeep. For British establishments, this is part and parcel of running a catering or leisure business, but what is not accounted for is the huge additional time and cost involved when something goes wrong. We are regularly called out to emergencies where the entire drainage system at a venue has ground to a halt because either a single erroneous item has been flushed down the toilet, or there has been a build-up of items over time that has led to a blockage. This can be exacerbated in catering venues, where fats, oil and grease (FOG) combine with non-biodegradable items to create fatbergs.
Some 85% of our survey respondents said they know that sanitary products should be disposed of in a bin rather than down the toilet, but hygiene, convenience and a lack of bins in the toilet were the factors most likely to lead them to flushing. The latter point should be of particular interest to owners and managers of catering outlets, as installing the right disposal units in every toilet cubicle could be all it takes to prevent an expensive blockage further down the line. There is, of course, an initial cost involved with doing this, but the outlay more than pays for itself if it avoids problems in the future, and will also provide a far more pleasant experience for customers in the meantime.
The right disposal
The legislation on the obligation to provide sanitary disposal systems is far from clear cut, meaning that many catering outlets currently lack individual bins in every toilet cubicle. Putting yourself in a customer’s position, it is quite easy to see why some people decide that flushing is the most feasible option. If, for whatever reason, you cannot install a bin in every cubicle, as a bare minimum you should consider displaying signage reminding customers of responsible flushing. This can be done in a subtle way that ties in with your decor but still gets the message across; that no sanitary items whatsoever should be flushed down the toilet, regardless of what guidance might be given on the packaging. There are also some great innovations on the market such as FabLittleBag; a hygienic self-sealing biodegradable pouch for disposing of sanitary products. This type of product might remove some of the obstacles around communal disposal units in venues where one bin per cubicle is not feasible.
While sanitary products are a major cause of blockages, there are all kinds of other items that we have unearthed when dealing with drainage problems in leisure venues. This is especially true in venues serving alcohol, when poor judgement can lead customers to accidentally flushing a weird and wonderful array of belongings. We have retrieved everything from mobile phones to items of clothing that were inadvertently flushed down the toilet. While it is difficult to mitigate against this, one thing that can help is installing sealed cistern units behind panels, rather than leaving the whole toilet open and accessible.
Waste disposal is high on the news agenda at the moment, with almost everyone getting involved in the debate around plastic pollution. Incorrectly disposing of sanitary products, many of which contain hidden plastics nonwoven into the fabric to make them non-biodegradable, falls into this important conversation. Catering venues could use this opportunity to introduce the discussion and ensure they are giving the right guidance to their customers on the matter, not just for the benefit of their own business but for the population as a whole.
By Michelle Ringland the head of marketing of drain cleaning and repair specialist Lanes Group