Clean up water down the drain


Responsible and wise water use is not simply about how efficiently you use or re-use water; it is also about ensuring that the wastewater and stormwater that leaves your home is as clean and uncontaminated as possible.  This makes all the difference to improving water quality and keeping our bays and waterways healthy and clean.

Wastewater needs to be treated to high environmental standards before it is discharged to the bay. The cleaner it is, the easier it is to treat and use for recycling, so it makes sense to be careful with what goes down the sink.

Your stormwater system is separate from your wastewater system. Put simply, all your interior wastewater outlets and the gully trap outside are connected to the sewer system, while all outside downpipes and open or covered drains are connected to the stormwater system. Stormwater drains carry excess rainwater from your roof and stormwater runoff from your property directly into the bay and nearby waterways such as rivers and canals. Stormwater can pick up a range of pollutants on its way to the bay, including cigarette butts, nutrients and sediment. Keeping your stormwater clean ensures clean and healthy bays and waterways.

Here are the top tips:

Don't pour cooking oil and fats down the sink or toilet. Fats solidify on cooling and can lead to clogging in the pipes and, ultimately, blockages that are costly to fix. Instead, wipe your pots and pans with a paper towel to remove excess oils and bin the paper towel. It's easy to create a waste oil collector for oily residue and used oil in pans: just fill two thirds of an empty cardboard milk carton with sand, and then scrape waste oil into it. When it's full, seal it with a bit of tape and pop it in the bin.

Use a sink strainer. These simple and cheap devices are still one of the most effective ways to prevent food scraps from running down the plughole. Empty the strainer regularly into the bin or compost.

Compost vegetable peelings and other food scraps. Collect scraps in a container near the sink and compost them at the end of the day or each morning.

No sticky labels. Remove the sticky labels from fruit and bottles and pop them in a bin. These labels are not biodegradable and do not break down in the wastewater system.

Don't rubbish the toilet. Don't flush cotton buds, bandages, cigarette butts, pharmaceuticals, oils, condoms, sanitary products, razors or syringes down the toilet (or other drains). These often contain plastic and do not break down. They can also cause sewage and drain blockages and can clog up the system at treatment plants. Most of these should go in the bin while old or unwanted pharmaceuticals can be returned to any chemist for safe disposal.

Use waterway-friendly detergents. Choose phosphate-free detergents. Many detergents contain phosphate which can be very harmful to the environment.

Reduce the amount of detergent you use. The average household uses three times more detergent than manufacturers recommend for washing dishes and clothes.

Dispose responsibly of paints, pesticides and other hazardous chemicals. Hazardous chemicals, such as paints, varnishes and pesticides, used for home finishes and garden maintenance, can corrode wastewater pipes and seriously damage our bays and waterways. Mop up motor oil spills: a little attention goes a long way in preventing oil pollution. Never dispose of pesticides, motor oil, paints or other finishes in your bin; they can cause serious soil contamination. Don't wash dog or cat droppings, paints, pesticides, chemicals or other toxins down your driveway or into your stormwater system. Instead, these can be dropped off at most times at your local safe disposal centre. Just ring Council to find the nearest one, or contact Sustainability Victoria for the dates of free household chemical collections in your area (free call 1800 353 233 or visit their website).

Use water-based paints and natural, biodegradable pesticides. They are much less harmful to the environment.

Clean responsibly. If you must use oil-based paints, clean brushes and rollers in turpentine and allow the mixture to evaporate. Put the remaining sludge in the bin.

Garden naturally. Minimise the use of chemicals and toxins in the garden; use natural and environmentally-friendly alternatives instead.

Keep stormwater clean. Again, minimise the use of chemicals, fertilisers and toxins in your garden, and keep the streets litter- and cigarette butt-free. If you are doing any renovations at home, keep soil, construction debris and other sediments from running off into the stormwater drains.

Clean the gutters. Keep leaf litter, cigarette butts and plastic bags out of the stormwater system.

Make it a clean renovation. When building or renovating, ensure your builder observes the use of sediment fences, sand bags and other acceptable devices to prevent and minimise stormwater pollution, sedimentation and contamination.

For more information on cleaning up your act and preventing pollution in and around your home, visit our Pollution page.