What Happens After The Flush?

Trash It! Don't Flush It!

"Out of sight, out of mind" is the attitude most of us have when it comes to flushing the toilet, running the dishwasher or popping the bathtub drain. But all that dirty water leaving your residence is called "wastewater" which has to end up somewhere. That "somewhere" in the City of Tampa's  Howard F. Curren Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant (HFCAWTP). The HFCAWTP runs the wastewater through a process that progressively removes solids, dissolved solids and harmful pathogens. By the time the water is released into the bay, it has spent 8 to 16 hours in the facility and is clean enough to be used for reclaimed water and provide a daily source of clean, fresh water for Hillsborough Bay - an average of 55 million gallons per day.

Before the wastewater arrives at the treatment plant it first must travel through the pipes connected to your home, apartment, dormitory room, etc., via gravity to our collections system pipes. From our collection system pipes it enters pumping stations that "pump" the water to the next point along the way. If there are no blockages in the pipes this wastewater reaches the treatment plant.

Sewer backups can cause damage to homes, health hazards and threaten the environment.  Sewer pipes blocked by grease are an increasing common cause of overflows.

What is the problem and how am I affected?

Sometimes there are blockages in the collection system pipes or pump stations. These blockages may cause sewage overflows and back-ups in your home, your neighbor's home, our waterways, on public property and just about wherever water can find a way out.

Some of these sewer overflows and back-ups occur because of system failures. Our infrastructure is old, pipes can collapse or break! More often than not these blockages can be attributed to improper disposal of personal items, such as diapers, feminine hygiene products, grease and fat from cooking, articles of clothing, bedding materials, towels, and rags into the sewer system. Everything you flush down your toilet, grind up in your garbage disposal and pour in your drains ends up at the treatment plant (albeit, not in its original form).

For instance, suppose you accidentally flush a washcloth down your toilet. If it doesn't clog your system and manages to move through your pipes it eventually ends up at the pumping station where it has joined hundreds of other rags, diapers, toys, plastic applicators, and other items that clog up the pumps and prevent them from working properly. Best case scenario -- a pump station technician is able to remove the pump from service, clear the blockage, reassemble, prime the pump and then return it to service. Worst case scenario -- the pump has been trying to run and is damaged. This leads to costly repairs, a pump station minus a pump that must be monitored more closely to prevent sewer overflows or back-ups from occurring, added stress on our wastewater system and increases our operating costs.

How much trash really ends up in the system?

We have equipment that catches and removes the majority of unwanted, larger items (non-waste) from the wastewater. These removed items on deposited into dumpsters. We empty about 24 dumpsters weekly. These dumpsters measure 4 cubic yards and 4 cubic yards = 108 cubic feet:

  • 24 dumpsters X 108 cubic feet = 2592 cubic feet
  • 1 - 50 gallon trash can = 6.5 cubic feet
  • 2592 cubic feet divided by 6.5 cubic feet = 399 trash cans a week. That's a lot of garbage and none of it belongs in the sewer system!

Our sewer system is not designed to collect trash. Human waste and toilet tissue are the only products the wastewater system was designed to handle. As a ratepayer in the City of Tampa this affects you because continued use of our sewer system as a trash can contributes to system failures, added stress and wear, and increased operation and maintenance costs.

How can you help:

We can all help maintain our infrastructure by adopting a few simple practices:

Please do not flush:

  • Diapers
  • Used bandages
  • Rags
  • Dental floss
  • Cotton balls/Q-tips
  • Personal hygiene products
  • Toys
  • Paper towels
  • Toothbrushes
  • Baby/Cleaning wipes
  • Leftover foods/sauces
  • Articles of clothing/bedding

Please do not pour down drains:

  • Grease, all used cooking oils, and leftover sauces and gravies(allow to cool and solidify, then scrape out and wrap in newspaper and dispose of in your trash can or allow to cool and then pour into a non-recyclable container and dispose of in your trash can)
  • Household/gardening chemicals
  • Paint
  • Engine oil
  • Leftover cleaners/solvents

With everyone's help the Wastewater Department can limit the number of sewer overflows and back-ups due to blockages in the system thereby eliminating the need for costly clean-ups and possible contamination of our waterways and endangerment of public health.

If you would like more information, a tour of the city's treatment facility, or need a speaker for your next group meeting, please contact Kathlyn Fitzpatrick at (813) 927-1377.

Remember, prevention is the key. Keep your pipes and drains "fat-free".