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U.K. water utility unveils ‘Barbarian’ wet wipe fighter, reveals list of flushed oddities


In 2019, Northumbrian Water discovered that 64% of the 15,600 blockages the U.K-based utility cleared were caused by wet wipes. Enter sewer gadget inventor, Steve Green, a Northumbrian sewerage maintenance operator on a mission to find a solution.

Green took it upon himself to invent a spiky circular device weighing two pounds and resembling an animal trap. The device, named “Barbarian” through an online contest, works by simply snagging wet wipes that have been flushed into the utility’s 29,000 kilometres of sewer network, which can cause flooding.

“This latest device will help us in the battle against sewer blockages caused by wet wipes, and adds to the range of blockage tackling tools we already have,” Green said in a statement. “The Barbarian is our heaviest tool and will be used in faster flowing sewers to help us pinpoint anyone wrongfully flushing wipes.”

The water utility said it has a handful of the Barbarian devices at present, as they are a relatively new design, and are “looking to roll them out to help in the battle against sewer blockages caused by wet wipes.”

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Northumbrian Water, which operates in the northeast and southeast of England, began its “Bin the Wipe” campaign earlier this year, encouraging customers not to use their toilets as a garbage can.

The water utility has been recording some of the more unusual items it has found in its sewer system, and this month issued a list of the oddest items found since the beginning of the U.K. lockdown during COVID-19. These include: a hard-boiled egg; socks; a small unopened tin of peaches; a cut up bed sheet; red tights; potatoes; a pink hand towel; a toy car and a toy centipede; a dead fish; and an air freshener.

“Barbarian” sewer gadget inventor, Steve Green, a Northumbrian Water sewerage maintenance operator. Photo credit: Northumbrian Water/Facebook.

Northumbrian officials found that 54% of households in the U.K. don’t have a waste bin in their bathroom to dispose of things like wet wipes, yet more than half of households keep wipes in their bathroom. To help fight the problem, the utility began an incentive program that actually began delivering bins to its water customers.

Prior to the pandemic, a Northumbrian team had also begun offering house visits to fix leaking toilets for free.

“This reduces water use and also has a positive impact on customer bills by reducing demand. For us, less demand means there is less need to build or invest in new infrastructure. That’s a real win-win example,” said Tamsin Lishman, Northumbrian asset management director.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been creating numerous problems for sewer networks in Canada as well. Find out more here.


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