Updated: Nov 19, 2020
This is a love letter to the often overlooked and underappreciated wastewater worker, written by Associate Eline Bakker and Founder Kim Worsham, in light of World Toilet Day.
My Wastewater Worker,
We haven’t met. The last time you came to our neighborhood, I didn’t want to interrupt the important work you do for our city. Many people consider the work you do to be dirty, but they just don’t see what I see: a committed public servant sacrificing his cleanliness to make the city liveable for the rest of us. You save us from clogged toilets and you fix what we mess up with our silly habits. You work the clogs in home plumbing and public sewers like a burly bear catching his slippery salmon in a rolling river - laser-focused and perhaps a little rough handed.
I don’t think most people appreciate you or notice when you work in our streets, but I notice you. I see you lift a public sewer maintenance hole cover as if it were the foil cover of a chocolate coin. I see you work the vacuum truck like you were a Sunday afternoon steel drum drummer in the sun. I can only hope that the truck’s suction works because manually going in to remove clogs of fat and rags is disgusting and dangerous work. I wouldn’t want that for you, and escaping from the sewers when things go sour is not easy! Who knows what chemicals and trash people and businesses have poured down their drains to make your job harder? You are kind of like a superhero - may I call you My Sewperhero?
My Sewperhero, aren’t we to blame for most of the clogs at home, in sewers and pumps? We flush things that really should not be flushed - like hair, wipes, diapers, condoms, tampons, floss, medication, cat litter, and more. Maybe even worse things. I hear wet wipes and Fats, Oils, and Greases (FOGs) are your biggest headache because the wet wipes don’t break down and FOGs cool and cake pipes and pumps. Together, they congeal into hard rock-like masses like tumors of the sewer network that can make your - and all of our - life, well...shitty.
I didn’t realize how connected to you I already was with my flush, your headache. I confess I used to flush wet wipes! It was the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, during Toilet Paper Gate, and I thought they were the flushable kind because that’s what the package said. I have since learned that despite the wipes feeling soft like cotton, they are polyester and polypropylene aka plastic (i.e. single-use plastics), and don’t actually decompose. Imagine all the microfibers that come free with every wet wipe and reach our waterways and oceans and get into the fish we eat! I’m sure you think about that more than I do - I admire that in you.
Unfortunately, like so many others, I was also guilty of washing FOGs along with the dishwater. I now see that FOGs are much like the plaque that causes heart arteries to fail - they congeal to wet wipes and silt up. And I know that that makes your work - your life! - so much harder to endure.
I can’t imagine you enjoy waking up in the middle of the night for emergency declogging, which is a big part of your work. I suppose you have missed many birthdays and family gatherings, maybe even Christmas, to do the dirty work for us so we can flush the toilet without a heartbeat of thought. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your sacrifice for this essential but unsung public service.
I worry about climate change and how that’s going to make your life even harder. The more frequent and more intense rainfall will put a strain on the system’s stormwater storage capacity. If the stormwater tanks are full, because you’re dealing with a wet wipes-and-FOG clog, then won’t the sewage backup and spill into rivers? Wouldn’t that cause pollution that will be dangerous for fish and us humans? I long for you to tell me how we could make big changes to how we flush and treat our pipes.
I want you to know that I see you and value you. I love you, and want to treat you right. For you, I vow to rid all wet wipes from my life and dry-wipe FOGs from my plates, pots, and pans. The greased napkins I will toss in the trash. I also vow to pour FOGs from larger cooking jobs into a FOG jar to take to the local hazardous waste location. And that’s only the beginning, for I am a changed flusher.
Thank you for putting up with my - and all of our - shit.
A secret admirer