Great Lakes Learning: Tips for growing a fatberg at home (safely!)

Read the full story at Great Lakes Now.

By now, you’re probably aware of the toilet paper hoarding that’s been going as part of #QuarantineLife during the COVID-19 outbreak.

People are desperate for it. Stores are out of it. All of a sudden, toilet paper has become a hot commodity while folks are stuck at home for weeks on end. Tensions are running high about what to do if the toilet paper stock runs out.

While many memes have poked fun at what alternatives to toilet paper could be used in the event of a shortage, the science behind what goes down the drain is not as lighthearted a topic to consider.

That’s because toilet paper was designed to break down in water over time, making it safe for sewers. However, every day many materials get put in the pipes that should not be there, including a surprising one—flushable wipes.

Yes, it’s true. Something that we’ve all seen or used, which is advertised by its very name to be flushable, should not be flushed down the toilet.

In fact, flushable wipes do not disintegrate like toilet paper in water. And that is causing a massive problem for sewer systems, not just in the Great Lakes region but around the world.

Fatbergs happen when water-insoluble materials (e.g. flushable wipes, paper towels) get flushed down the drain. Since these materials don’t readily dissolve in the water of our sewers, they can accumulate in the pipes or underground in the sewer system and build up until they form an iceberg-like mass of waste…

Typically, the lesson on fatbergs would happen in a classroom or science lab setting. But in this time of school closures, how does the topic of fatbergs translate to a teachable moment while learning remotely?

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