As many rush to stores to panic-purchase toilet paper amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, they’re being warned over overusing substitutes like paper towel and wet wipes.
They’re clogging, and potentially overwhelming, the U.K.’s sewage system.
Thames Water, the U.K.’s biggest water and wastewater service, is warning consumers not to “feed” the “fatbergs,” a build-up of fat and non-biodegradable matter.
The so-called “fatbergs” are created when items like wet wipes and paper towel combine with oil, grease and fat in the sewage system and create blocks, forming iceberg-like formations.
The organization took to Twitter to share the warning, writing: “We’re reminding everyone to help us by not flushing wet wipes, kitchen roll down their toilets. … Instead, they should be thrown in the bin.”
Speaking to The Guardian, a Thames Water spokesperson said: “Fatbergs are a vivid reminder to us all that out of sight is not gone forever. They are like monsters from the deep, lurking and slowly growing under our feet. Our advice is always to bin your fat and wipes, and don’t feed the fatberg.”
Richard Wilding, a leading supply chain academic, says people are likely not considering these effects amidst the panic.
“If kitchen towels, baby wipes or industrial papers are used as a replacement for toilet paper, our sewage systems could readily become blocked with the resulting chaos and increased health risks associated with this,” he told the publication.
“Ultimately, water companies may not have the infrastructure and equipment to unblock the sewer system.”
As fears of COVID-19 continue to rise, people are hitting the stores to stock up on essentials like toilet paper, canned food, soap and hand sanitizer.
Around the world and at home in Canada, the panic has left stores completely out of stock on these items, leading to supply chain disruptions and leaving some empty-handed.
Some have taken to social media and posted photos of empty shelves, picked-over packages of pasta and other items completely removed in big-name grocery stores like Walmart, Costco and Trader Joe’s.