Thursday, January 4, 2018

Non-Woven Spun Fibers

Miracle materials have made modern life easier - but sometimes a lot harder.

 A friend comes to visit a few years ago, and brings the new baby.  They see a "flushable wipe" advertised and think this might be a good product to wipe up baby poop with.   Wipe and flush - no fuss, no muss!

Well, not for the consumer, anyway, at least not directly.   The problem we had, was that our pipes, being older, had some rusty parts, although most was smooth, new PVC pipe.   Unfortunately, this joined old-style clay pipe near the curb, and tree roots like to find their way into the joints of clay pipe, leaving a rastafarian-like tangle of dreadlocks lining the pipe.

The "flushable" wipes catch on rough iron pipes or on these tree roots and eventually form a clog.   And so, we had to call Mr. Rooter and have it all rooted out.

But even if the problem didn't manifest itself 30 yards from our front door, these types of non-woven spun fabrics can cause problems for sewer systems down the road.   If you have a septic tank, they will sit in the tank forever - or travel down into the drain field and clog the drain pipes.   Or they get into your local sewage treatment plant and clog their works as well.   I talked to a sanitation engineer about this, and he said these "flushable wipes" and other types of non-woven spun fabrics were a particular nightmare for them.   Unlike say, a cotton washcloth (which is a lot harder to flush in the first place!) it will never degrade, rot, or and decompose.   It basically stays in its same form for a long, long time.

Mark buys - or used to buy, until I put my foot down today - disposable "dish wipes" as shown above.  They are blue color and about the size of a washcloth and are made of non-woven spun fabrics.   I never saw the point of them - they get wet and soggy, and you can't scrub anything with them.  The fold over on themselves and once you've used one, it is a bacteria nightmare loitering in your sink.

But worst of all, they fall into the drain and cause mayhem, much like the "flushable" baby-wipes my friends used.   They get into the sink and clog the disposal.  I have had to snake the drain on the sink more than once, only to find shards of blue plastic fabric on the end of the snake.   And today, well, I was using the laundry room sink and I saw one of these cloths and was using it to scrub something and I set it down in the sink.  The washer just then, went into drain mode, and a fountain of water filled the sink from the washing machine - flushing the blue cloth down the drain and instantly clogging it.   Water everywhere!   What a nightmare.

So now I have to roto-root the drain again (by now, I own my own RIGID professional power snake) and I will use this as an excuse to take the washer and dryer out and install new PVC pipe in that location - and maybe move a few other pipes.   But the first thing I did was go throughout the house and throw away all these little blue bacteria-harboring towelettes and told Mark we need to stop using these.  Buy a sponge or something, use a cotton washcloth - whatever.  Use something that doesn't slide down the drain at the first opportunity.

It is great that thanks to modern chemistry, we have plastics that last for decades, house paints that last for years, and materials that never rust or corrode or degrade.   It was not long ago that painting your house was a yearly event - or something you did every other year, at best.   Scraping and painting and puttying your wood-frame windows was a springtime chore.   And they never opened very well in any event - the wood swelling and shrinking with the seasons.   Today, we have the miracle of plastic, PVC, and vinyl.   You can side a house and never paint it in your lifetime.    It truly is amazing.

The downside of course is that this shit never goes away, and some folks are raising the alarm that microscopic bits of plastic, broken down from big chunks of plastic, are being found in the tissues of most animal life on the planet.   Fine particles of plastic are now a permanent part of the ocean and in the fish you eat - and maybe in you as well.

It is alarming, but of course, there isn't much we can do about it in the short-term.   Even if we stopped making plastic today - 100% - it would take decades if not a century or more for the existing plastic to work its way down the food chain - and back up again, so to speak.   But maybe, like with chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants and the ozone hole, we can come up with alternatives that break down over time.  This may mean, of course, that the vinyl siding on your home may now have a shelf-life of five years or so - something most of us are not willing to live with.

Non-woven spun fibers are another one of these modern miracles.  They are in those FedEx bags you might use to ship something, or in the disposable diaper you use (or Donald Trump uses - a friend points out that the President has suspicious bulges in his ample pants.   Is he incontinent or merely bulging from below the waistline?).  They are, in short, in just about everything.

But one place they should not be, is in your sink or toilet!