Tyres, old clothes, shoes, building rubble, rags, newspaper, nappies, feminine hygiene products, condoms, wet wipes, animal carcasses, food waste and hardened cooking fats are among the items that are found illegally dumped into the Cape’s sewer system. This is causing the majority of about 300 sewer overflows city-wide a day.

The City’s Water and Sanitation Department cleared approximately 122 000 sewer blockages across Cape Town and spent about R350-million in 2020. Around 75% of these cases are the result of misuse of the sewer system.

Illegal dumping into the Cape’s sewer system is a major contributor to blockages, as well as many people’s daily habits of disposing of their waste in toilets and down sinks and drains instead of in bins or refuse bags for collection.

Common causes of blockages include:

– rags
– newspapers
– feminine hygiene products
– nappies
– wet wipes
– building materials/rubble

The problems are compounded when high levels of cooking fat/oil enter the system as they harden and build up on the inside of the sewer pipes and act like glue, attracting rags, hair, paper, plastics and other debris. The hardness of these blockages can also make them very difficult to clean out.

Illegal discharge of stormwater (i.e. from rain gutters) into sewers also contributes to overflows by overloading the capacity of the pipes, particularly during heavy rainfall.

“The City will continue to respond to these service requests and clear blockages as quickly as we can, but meaningful improvement and reduction in overflows requires a shift in behaviour and habits in society. We all need to be much more conscious of what we flush down the toilets. Currently, too many of our limited resources are being used to respond to the consequences of illegal behaviour,” said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Water and Waste, Alderman Xanthea Limberg.

Residents are reminded of the following:

– Please ensure that rain gutters and downpipes and surface runoff on your property flows into stormwater drains in the street rather than sewers.
– Only human waste, toilet paper, and cleaning detergent should be flushed down the toilet. Everything else- rags, cooking oil/ fats, newspapers, feminine hygiene products, condoms, nappies, wet wipes and building materials- needs to disposed of via the appropriate solid waste services that are provided by the City. Flushing anything apart from human waste and toilet paper is illegal in terms of the Wastewater and Industrial Effluent By-law.
– Manholes should not be used for dumping/waste disposal. These should remain closed as they are only used for inspection and maintenance purposes.

Some tips for residents:

– Put a strainer in the sink to catch food or other waste before it goes down the drain and creates blockages.

Wipe cooking fats, oil or grease off the pan, and don’t pour it down the drain.

– Don’t flush nappies and sanitary products, they absorb water and expand, which causes blockages.

– Check that rainwater gutters don’t flow into the sewer system, as it overloads

– Visit the City’s drop-off facilities to dispose of recyclables, electronics, garage waste and builder’s rubble

“We appeal to residents and community leaders to use the available resources on the City’s website to join in efforts to raise awareness. At the end of the day, the City cannot practically police what residents flush down the toilet or wash down their sinks, so it is up to communities to take responsibility. Let us work together to prevent sewer overflows,” concluded Limberg.

Residents are encouraged to use one of the channels available to log a service request:
(Please provide the street address, and get a reference number)
– Online www.capetown.gov.za/servicerequests

– Email [email protected]

– SMS 31373 (maximum 160 characters. Standard rates apply)

– Call 0860 103 089

– Visit a City walk-in centre (see www.capetown.gov.za/facilities to find the one closest to you)

Picture/s: City of Cape Town

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