Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Although city staff have been doing the same thing over and over again, they're hoping that by communicating with the public, that they can expect different results.
The issue is "flushable" wipes. These wipes, city officials told the Pittsburg City Commission on Tuesday, are not as easily disposed as their label, and have continued to wreak havoc on the city wastewater system.
In fact, the city officials brought props to the meeting — a collection of some of the flushable wipes available.
"There are various types of flushable wipes. There are a lot out there you can buy. They claim to be flushable. They claim they're good for that," said Chris Farinacci, city wastewater treatment plant superintendent. "But you should not flush them — they're dangerous to the collection system and to septic tanks."
Farinacci pointed out that Pittsburg is not the first city to deal with flushable wipes as a problem. In fact, he mentioned that in July, London officials named a 15-ton, "bus-sized lump" of grease and flushable wipes "Fatberg".
In Pittsburg, there have been similar effects, but on a smaller scale, of course.
"We have to unplug a pump for four hours two or three times a week. Three times a week, we have a pump that's clogged, or we have to clear floats," Farinacci said. "It's progressively getting worse. It's a real problem the last four or five years. They're gaining in popularity. We're more and more prone to these, and it seems like people are using them more and more."
In Pittsburg, Farinacci said that it costs the city about $75 an hour to have two wastewater crew members and a truck on a scene of a plugged pump, and the price can rise to $200 an hour when a collections crew has to go out, too. In the last few months, four times the full crew has been called, and 13 times just the wastewater crew has been called.
To show the public just how hard it is to destroy a flushable wipe, Farinacci had city workers conduct a series of tests.
The first was a disintegration test, in which a piece of toilet paper and a flushable wipe were both placed in a beaker of water, with the water actively spun. Within a minute, the toilet paper had broken apart.
After 24 hours of being submerged in an actively spun beaker, the flushable wipe was still whole. In fact, to show how strong these wipes are, city officials twisted that same waterlogged wipe, and picked up an eight-pound bucket of water using only the wipe.
Another test had crews drop colored flushable wipes at a couple locations more than two miles away from the wastewater treatment plant. All of them were found and almost all were fully intact.
"The collection system didn't damage them a bit," Farinacci said.
Farinacci said that the clogs can affect the pumps. He told commissioners that one pump that can normally handle 800 gallons of water at a time has been doing only 600 because of the clogs caused by flushable wipes.
"In the long run, it costs everybody a lot more money. We have a lot of pumps wearing out, and that's what costs utilities so much is we have all these repairs we're having to do. It will wear out the propellers and damage sills. It literally costs thousands of dollars to replace and repair those," Farinacci said.
Ultimately, Farinacci said it's "one of the biggest problems we deal with" in the city wastewater plant.
The city officials are hoping that simply a public information blitz will help stem the tide of flushable wipes.
"The biggest thing that stands out is it's a legal product," said City Manager Daron Hall. "The reality is, they say they're flushable. Our hope today is bringing it to people's attention that they aren't flushable. The question then is why are they called flushable? That's a little bit bigger than Pittsburg or even the League of Kanas Muncipalities. Just cause they say they're flushable, it's still an impediment to operating our plants."
Officials even offered a memorable catchphrase for the issue: "Ignore the Hype! Don't flush a wipe!"