Three ways you could be polluting waterways without realising

Sending toxic waste down our drains can have a big impact on our waterways - make sure your next DIY project is environmentally-friendly with these tips from the Environmental Agency's Andy Rogers

How to avoid polluting waterways when renovating
Published: April 20, 2022 at 3:57 pm

When renovating or undergoing DIY projects, opting for more sustainable choices of products and furniture is a great step to minimise our impact on the environment - and it’s easy to forget that we can make a difference just by being more conscious of what we pour down the drain.

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Whatever we send down the pipes will eventually affect the water quality of our rivers, streams and oceans that it will eventually flow into, and so it can even impact the wildlife that lives in or around it.

But playing a part to help keep our streams and rivers clean can be easier than you think. Andy Rogers, Water Quality Planning Manager at the Environment Agency, shares three questions to consider when working on your home:

Are your home's drains wrongly connected?

Most homes have two drainage systems. The surface water drain takes rainwater from the gutter and surrounding area to a local river or stream. The foul drain takes all the stuff you wouldn’t want in a local river or stream (think the water from your toilet, bathroom, and kitchen) away to the local sewage works for treatment.

It’s important to make sure that your drains are going to the right place. Chemicals used in the kitchen and sewage waste can seriously harm wildlife when released into our streams and rivers. As part of my role at the Environment Agency, I’ve seen the impact of this pollution first-hand and work with water companies to identify the sources. We’ve seen all too often that quick DIY fixes can lead to complicated problems that are expensive to track down and rectify.

If you’re thinking about getting an extension to your property, it’s good to check if these have been connected properly so you’re not polluting your local blue spaces.

I’d recommend the ConnectRight website for lots of information on how to check your drains are leading to the right place. It’s a criminal offence and. as a homeowner, you’d be liable – so it’s not just the environment that benefits from checking out the pipes!

Are you disposing of leftover paint correctly?

Most renovation projects will involve a lick of paint. Whether you’re going for a ‘clean’ all-white look, or experimenting with the latest colours, ensuring that you safely dispose of any left-over paint is key to minimising harm on the ecosystem.

Pouring paint down the drain can damage water and harm wildlife because it contains toxic chemicals. Most surface water drains lead directly to the rivers or sea, so go untreated into the environment - they’re not designed to take contaminated wastewater, only rainwater.

If you have any leftover paint, take it to your local recycling centre (check ahead with your local centre to make sure they accept this, to avoid a wasted trip). Alternatively, if the paint is still fresh to use, you could even give it to a neighbour or friend! It has recently been announced that households won’t need to pay local authorities to get rid of DIY waste, so it’s worth taking a trip down to your local centre.

And it’s not just paint from renovations that’s the problem. Even pouring cooking fat or oil down the sink clogs pipes and can cause fatbergs to build up, meaning that sewage discharges happen more often, polluting rivers and the sea.

Don't flush wet wipes or blue roll

Many people will know that renovating is a messy job. Anyone who has taken on a project will know that wet wipes and blue roll can be incredibly helpful for mopping up spillages or scrubbing down dirty surfaces ahead of giving it a lick of paint.

Although handy, these materials can be detrimental to our drains and sewage pipes if flushed down the toilet. Blue paper and wet wipes are much thicker than toilet paper, meaning water systems aren’t designed to handle or break them down and create blocked sewage pipes. Believe me, blocked drains and sewers don’t make the best introduction to your new neighbours!

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I hope that the above tips and tricks will help you take the extra steps towards making your project greener – or in this case, bluer.

Authors

Andy RogersWater Quality Planning Manager for Environment Agency

Andy Rogers has been working on water quality for the Environment Agency and predecessor organisations for over thirty years, trying to understand and solve the water pollution problems our society is causing. Andy has seen tremendous progress in this time and where raw sewage floating around in our popular bathing waters was the norm several decades ago, this any many other problems like acid rain, are virtually under control.

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